Du bist hier: Referate Datenbank | Englisch
| Kesey, Ken: One flew over the cuckoo’s nest
Kesey, Ken: One flew over the cuckoo’s nest
ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO`S
I welcome all of you to our presentation. We read the novel «One flew
over the cuckoo’s nest» by Ken Kesey. During this lesson we
won’t only talk about the book but also about the film.
First, I`d like to say a few words about the author: Ken Kesey was born in
Colorado in 1935. He studied at the University of Oregon, where he graduated in
1957. He volunteered for drug experiments carried out by the government and
worked in the psychiatric ward of a veterans` hospital for a while. It was the
experience of this period that he used for this book. Towards the end of the
sixties he founded a group called The Merry Pranksters. This group experimented
with drugs, travelled the country, filmed the country and its people and
generally criticized the narrow-mindedness of the American system. Accused and
later convicted of possessing marijuana, Kesey took refuge for a time in Mexico
which caused the group to split up. The way he was described in Tom Wolfe`s The
Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968) made Kesey into a cult-hero of the sixties
together with groups like Jefferson Airplane and The Doors. I`m sure yall have
already heard of the famous singer of the doors, Jim Morrison. So far Kesey has
only produced two other books, Sometimes a Great Notion (1964) and Kesey`s
Garage Sale (1973). He now lives on a farm in Oregon.
(Pic: This is Ken Kesey on a tractor working on his farm. By the way, it is
the most recent photography we could find of him. Also, I want to mention our
sources. We found almost all of our material on the Internet.)
The book starts off with the folk rhyme: "To Vik Lovell who told me dragons
did not exist, then led me to their lairs .... one flew east, one flew west,
One flew over the cuckoo`s nest.
When I first read this title it didn`t really help me to find out about the
content or the theme of the novel. But later on, I figured there is a strong
symbolic meaning to it.
The title "One flew over the cuckoo`s nest" refers to the time that
MacMurphy spends in the hospital (the cuckoo`s nest). Moreover, Miss Ratched,
the big nurse is like a cuckoo, that does not really take care of her young (in
the book represented by the patients), she just wants them to adjust to her
system and set of her regulations. Most of the patients are in this ward of
their own free will: they want to be treated because they can`t cope with the
Damian is now going to tell you a short summary of the plot.
Point of view.
The story is entirely told in the first-person point of view, in the
perspective of Chief "Broom" Bromden, a Red Indian who pretends he cannot speak
or hear. He has been on that ward longer than any other patients and his story
about MacMurphy is interspersed with reminiscences of his own youth and earlier
happenings on the ward. This perspective is very convincing and believable
because we know the feelings of a participating person and at the same time get
some background information.
The story takes place somewhere in the USA. Except for the sailing trip,
everything happens on the grounds of a hospital for mentally ill people. The
methods of treatment of the patients and other hints show that the action takes
place in the sixties.
Ken Kesey generally uses a rich vocabulary. Whereas the nurse is quoted in
proper English, the direct speech of some of the patients is in slang which
provides a vivid atmosphere. A good example is one of the passages MacMurphy
playing cards: He says here"...hey-ya hey-ya, okay, next, goddammit, you
hit or you sit ... comin at ya ...!" (p.67)
In Chief Broom`s inner monologues, Kesey uses the literary technique stream
of consciousness. This style of writing attempts to imitate the natural flow of
a character`s thoughts, feelings and memories. It enables the writer to go
deeply into a character`s psychology.
And about the different characters in the book, Andreas Scherrer`s gonna
tell you more about.
And now we are coming to one of the most important parts when reading a
book, the interpretation. Why did Ken Kesey write this book, what did he want to
achieve and what do we think about it? I understood this book as a severe
criticism of society`s attitude towards mentally ill persons and the way they
were treated. Randle P. McMurphy is a totally healthy person at the time he
enters the hospital. And in fact, the doctor`s diagnosis of McMurphy`s mental
health state is quit clear. He one says in a meeting: "I don`t see any evidence
of mental illness at all. And I think that McMurphy has been trying to put us on
all this time." But Ms Ratched, the nurse, wants to keep him on the ward. It
seems like she carries out a fight against him and wants to make sure she`s the
winner. And she finally wins. After McMurphy underwent several EST (Electro
Shock Treatments) and an operation, lobotomy, he becomes a vegetable. Chief
Bromden realizes that such a live is not worth living any more, hugs his friend
and then frees him from the bondage of his existence in an act of mercy killing.
It is evident that the system of the hospital failed in this case, and it
provokes that many others were treated unfair. From today`s view, we must admit
there were many mistakes made in psychiatry because knowledge, in particular
many important medicines were missing at this time. These people must be treated
as full human beings!
Ken Kesey also criticizes the industrial society. On page 186 he describes
a group of business men for example as: "a string of full-grown men in mirrored
suits and machined hats, like a hatch (Brut) of identical insects, half-life
things." Kesey carries out this criticism through the eyes of Chief Broom, a
half –blood Columbia Indian. This perspective makes it understandable and
touching, because to him, the industrialization meant an existential threat.
Another point often criticized in Kesey`s Cuckoo`s nest is a sexist
rejection and suppression of woman. The presentation of the Big Nurse is very
sexist. It says: "Everything working together except the color on her lips and
fingernails, and the size of her bosom. A mistake was made somehow in
manufacturing, putting those big womanly breasts on what would of otherwise been
a perfect work." McMurphy characterizes the Big Nurse as a "bitch", a "buzzard"
and a "ball-cutter".
A further highly sexist suggestion is that the only good woman in the novel
are the good-hearted whores.
We`d now like to show you a short excerpt from the film. The scene we`re
gonna watch together is the one that shocked us the most. Word-for-word shocked,
because it is the one where Mc Murphy gets his Electro Shock Therapy.
It starts off right in the middle of a afternoon meeting. The patients are
discussing the restriction of the cigarettes.
We`re now getting to the third part of the presentation, the discussion.
But before we start to talk about the three questions on the Information sheet,
I`d like to talk about another subject. Lobotomy. This is the brain surgery the
big nurse uses in the end to completely defeat McMurphy. In medical terms, it
means the "destruction or removal of the prefrontal lobes of the cortex of the
brain." In other words, the frontal lobe is the seat of your autonomy, the part
of the brain that makes you you. Patients who have had lobotomy tend to act
like monkey see, monkey do. If one takes his comb out of his pocket and combs
his hair, the patient does the same thing. They lost all their personality.
Lobotomy was mainly used on extremely psychotic patients because there were no
tranquilizers to put them calm. It was easy to just turn them into vegetables.
The needs of the hospital staff seemed to come before the needs of the patients.
Today there are major tranquilizers and other medicines. But many of them have
Lately it came up, that between 1944 and 1963, there were 4500 people in
Sweden who underwent a controversial brain surgery. Some of them were taken from
a regular hospital and did not agree with the operation!!!
Now, what do you think of the method of lobotomy? Do you think it was
justified back in those days?
I will now introduce the main characters of the story to you.
First, there is Chief "Broom" Bromden, a very strong Red Indian,
born in Canada. He pretends he cannot speak or hear. This is how he can get to
know quite a lot about what is going on in the ward without being disturbed. He
feels compassion and respect for McMurphy, because he tries to fight the system.
McMurphy`s behaviour gradually makes him less afraid of the system.
Randolph Patrick McMurphy is a red-haired, smooth-talking convict,
who caused a lot of trouble when he was at Pendleton Work Farm. He had several
fights there. He feigns hearing strange sounds in order to escape the hard
labour in that prison. In the ward he immediately becomes the symbol of personal
freedom for his fellow patients, who very gradually start taking initiatives.
His behaviour annoys the Big Nurse so much that she takes drastic measures to
keep him under control.
Miss Mildred Ratched (The big nurse), a middle-aged woman, runs the
ward that McMurphy is admitted to. She first and foremost wants the place to run
smoothly. Any deviations from the set rules are not permitted by her and she
will do anything to keep the rules as they are. She is the person who decides
when a committed patient can leave the ward. She even has influence on the
doctors which are responsible for the patients on her ward. In keeping the order
she is helped by three black aides.
Of course there are some other Patients on the ward. They are subdivided
into two main categories: the Acutes and the Chronics. The Acutes are
“less ill” then the Chronics. The Chronic category is again
subdivided into three groups: the Walkers (these are those who still can walk,
for example Chief Broomden), the Wheelers (those in a wheelchair) and the
Vegetables (paralytic patients).
The chronic patients, except for the Chief, do not play an important role
in the plot. But some of the acutes do. These are mainly Dale Harding, the most
intellectual of all of them, he even has graduated at a high-school, Billy
Bibbit, a nice stammering man, who is dominated by his mother and Charlie
Cheswick, the patient who takes first side with McMurphy.
The head doctor at the institution is named Dr. Spivey. He has been chosen
as Doctor on the ward by Miss Ratched because he is the one who doesn’t
say anything against her. But when McMurphy is brought to the ward the doctor
begins to cooperate a little bit with the patients.
Last but not least there are the three black boys on the ward. They are the
aides and do exactly what the Big Nurse tells them. In some scenes they act as
COMPARISON WITH THE FILM
As we have chosen a book of which the film is more known than the book
itself, we watched the film as well. The moving picture «One Flew Over the
Cuckoo`s Nest» came out in 1975. It is directed by Czech Milos Forman. The
film swept the Oscars, the first film to take all the major awards (Best
Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor [Jack Nicholson`s first] and
Best Actress) since 1934.
The film`s screenplay (by Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman) was restructured
and adapted from Ken Kesey`s 1962 popular novel of the same name so that it
would appeal to contemporary audiences. The novel was originally dramatized on
Broadway in 1963 with actor Kirk Douglas starring in the lead role. Many years
after its short theatrical run, Douglas` son, actor/producer Michael Douglas
co-produced the film with Saul Zaentz and it was released by United Artists.
After we had seen the film we were in a disappointed mood. Maybe we had too
great expectations for the movie because everyone told us that is a great one,
maybe we weren’t satisfied by the film because we had read the book first.
As you all know, if a film is made from a book, it`s always much shorter and
less precise, but in the case of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest the film
is rather illogical.
Let me give you some examples:
- The first thing I noticed watching the film is that the scenes are not in
the same order as in the book.
- In the film there is a funny scene where McMurphy tries to explain to the
Chief how to play basketball. In the book that is never mentioned.
- In the book it takes McMurphy a long time to get the right to make a sort of
a casino in the tub room. That is a room next to the day-room where the patients
are during the whole day. He even needs and gets the help from the hospital`s
doctor Mr. Spivey. In the film you hear the first time from this gambling room
when the Big Nurse tells Mc that the room is closed for gambling now.
- Then in my opinion an important thing missing in the film is that Doc Spivey
isn’t present at the daily group meetings. In the book he assists the
meetings and helps in several cases Mc to get his ideas through.
- The last difference I want to mention is the most evident one: In the book
Mc organizes a fishing trip for the inmates. He is only able to do so with the
help of the Doctor who also joins the group. The fact that he collects money for
the excursion helps the Big Nurse later to make the other patients think bad
about Mc. On the boat during the fishing the patients come closer to each other
and, more important, closer to the Doctor. They even discover that one of the
patients got the navy cross. That’s more or less the scene in the book
whereas in the film Mc just hijacks the bus of the ward and takes the patients
to the seaside. There he takes a boat and lies to the owner something that they
were a group of doctors on a trip.
So finally I came to the
conclusion that the main point I didn’t like in the film is the role of
the doctor compared to his role in the book, and that the reviews of Chief on
his childhood aren’t shown in the film. There I think the film lost
I really enjoyed reading this book. The story is for one time something
different. No lovestory, no senseless killing, no boring horror, no police
officers, just a solid story playing in a place where from the society called
nuts but in reality interesting people live together.
But don’t underestimate this piece of literature! It’s like a
coco-nut. Inside it’s good, but to get there you have to work. The english
used in the book is quite challenging especially because Ken Kesey often uses
colloquial expressions. Then the book has “only” about 250 pages but
as you can see one page contains a lot of words. I had to read a couple of hours
longer than I thought to finish this nevertheless good book.