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A Voice in the Wilderness

As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there's a twilight where everything remains seemingly unchanged, and it is in such twilight that we must be aware of change in the air, however slight, lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness. -- William O. Douglas

Thursday, July 01, 2010

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - by Ken Kesey - My Review

" flew east,
one flew west,
and one flew over the cuckoo's nest."

I first read, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest” when I was fourteen. I remember checking it out at the library and my only reason for picking it out was because I liked the name. The following year, Jack Nicholson starred as Randall Patrick McMurphy, the convict who decided to have himself placed in a psychiatric hospital in lieu of finishing out his prison sentence in a work camp.
While no book can ever be matched by a movie, and Hollywood's rendition was not all that bad, it never came close to what Ken Kesey was able to accomplish with his prose.

McMurphy’s fateful decision to take on the ward tyrant Nurse Ratched - a twisted woman whose sinister control was unchallenged untl Randall McMurphy came along. McMurphy's arrival exposed Nurse Ratched's manipulative nature and her undermining the patients ability to improve their situation. This placed McMurphy and Ratched on a collision course.

At first blush, McMurphy appeared on the surface to be self-centered. However, he was soon forced to decide whether to secure his personal interests or sacrifice them for the greater good of his fellow inpatients.

Kesey had a powerful influence on my love for books and, while I typically never re-read a book, I decided to give this book another go after finishing Wallace Stegner's, “On Writing and Teaching Fiction.”
Stegner is credited with having been a major influence on Ken Kesey who was a student of his at Stanford University where Kesey started his manuscript of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's nest.

In the thirty five years that have passed since I first read Cuckoo's nest, I am amazed at how much richer the story has become. At fourteen years old, I was particularly impressed by McMurphy's brash, devil-be-damned nature.

This time around, I was more affected by McMurphy's decision to take a stand. Because of that, the book was particularly disturbing. I suppose because with three and half of more decades of living under my belt, age has afforded me more opportunities to witness Man’s inhumanity to Man.

That said, I have seen far less McMurphy’s in my lifetime than I have seen people of the Nurse Ratched variety. McMurphys definitely seem to be waning in number.
I have always had an abiding respect for the McMurphys of the world - more so now that I am older. They are becoming rarer by the day while the Ratched mentality seem to be ever on the rise. I may not like the Ratcheds of the world but I certainly do understand them.

This book continues to be on my short list of books to read if I was forced to be marooned on an abandoned island. I appreciate Kesey because of his ability to point out the intrinsic value of all Human Beings and moreover, his literary admonition that we ought never dismiss people on the basis of our pre-determined, prescriptive notions that tend to be overly dismissive simply because we are obsessed with status and social standing.

It reminds me of Mohadnas K. Ghandi’s observation that, “All humanity is one undivided and indivisible family, and each one of us is responsible for the misdeeds of all the others. I cannot detach myself from the wickedest soul."

The sooner we all realize we are all in it together – it meaning life – the less we will be inclined to diminish one another and basing such dismissal on arbitrary criteria that serve whatever personal or group interest to our own end.


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