Illustration of Nurse Ratched

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

by Ken Kesey

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How was One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest received by critics and the general public upon release?

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In 1962, Ken Kesey published One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which tells the story of the patients in an Oregon psychiatric hospital. The narrator is Chief Bromden, an enormous man who passes as both deaf and blind. Bromden centers much of his narration on Randle Patrick McMurphy. McMurphy is a man faking insanity to avoid serving a jail sentence. The other central character is Nurse Ratched, who controls the ward with total authority. She gives almost no focus to medical aid.

The public had an overwhelmingly positive reaction to the novel. Only one year after the novel was released, it was adapted into a Broadway play. Later, the novel was adapted into a film. Both of these adaptations speak to the positive reception by the general public, and the monetary incentives for adapting in different mediums.

Time magazine included the book on their “100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005” list. The BBC included the novel on their The Big Read poll of the UK’s 200 best-loved novels.

From a critical reception perspective, the novel received both positive and negative criticism. The positive criticism comes from the deconstruction of the idea of the mental hospital. Kesey writes the mental hospital as more of a prison than a hospital, and it becomes somewhere to be controlled rather than a rehabilitative place. Nurse Ratched symbolizes the overarching authority of the prison warden. The negative critics focus on the end of the novel, where the reader learns that Bromden may not be as insightful as they believed. This revelation weakens the above critique of the mental hospitals.

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