Books That Inspire 2011

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Ken Kesey

The title is associated with the film that launched Jack Nicholson. The movie suggests warring personalities, but Kesey intended the profession that produced the hospital that warehoused, rather than treated, to be seen much more as a machine. Nurse Ratched is a cog in the wheel, a grind or a gear, designed to maintain control, exert authority, and wield power, rather than to heal and rehabilitate. Written in 1961, it displays some backlash against continued post-war Communist hysteria, manufactured institutional threats, and the attempt to use various "fears" to keep people in check and ready to sign up for war … in this case, in Vietnam. This book, for me, picks up where 1984 left off when published in 1949.

Kesey uses the "voice" of a seemingly deaf and mute inmate to articulate his own observations from his days both as a subject of experimentation and a participant in the mental health profession. The one person who convinced everyone he was unable to talk about what went on inside the walls was the one who finally found freedom. And the real McMurphy in the book is beautiful, with long red curly hair, and blue eyes, as though Kesey believes that the more independent, creative, and beautiful something is, the more likely the institution will destroy it. The book is also a dance, a mirroring, a parallel examination, of illicit drugs and pharmacology (which the institution employs liberally), highlighting hypocrisy. Kesey experiments with control and freedom, the fine line between the dysfunction of the administration of the hospital and the supposed insanity of the inmates, and the crude display of power.

Lee Green-Hall
Assistant to the Director, Academic Advisor, Instructor
Religious Studies