Although One Who Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a very well-known book, taught often in high schools and at universities, this was my first time reading it. Overall I enjoyed it. It was interesting reading a book from the perspective of a neurodivergent narrator, Chief Bromden. Even though Chief is diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and widely believed by the other characters to be dead and dumb, I do believe him as a narrator. Regardless of the hallucinations, when Chief is mentally present he does a very good job at observing the staff and other patients around him. The way no one suspects anything from Chief is almost like an advantage. Besides the orderlies making him sweep a lot, until McMurphy shows up, Chief does a good job of staying hidden and quiet. He specifies that he prefers this over being noticed. This passive quietness helps chief to kind of be like a fly on the wall and stay as safe as possible in a place that constantly threatens to fry your brain under the guise of treatment. Rather than risk special attention from Ratched and the orderlies, Chief avoids going to the Disturbed Ward, the Shock Shop, and having a lobotomy performed.
Even though Chief talks about fog a lot, I don’t think this undermines him as a reliable narrator. Chief latched onto describing the asylum and his time there often as being engulfed in fog. This turns out to be a fantastic metaphor that helps the reader to understand the setting and the feel that is going throughout the asylum. It brings us closer to understanding the “haze”, as well as the other patients, are in. This addresses the intense regime Ratched has the patients in. She drugs them to keep them in check and governs them with fear for extra “treatment”.
I liked how this book could bring awareness to some of the mistreatment and cruelty that has filled asylums and mental hospitals. Even though this asylum is stated to be better than the “old hospital”, it is clearly still corrupt with the treatment of the patients by the staff. Most of the patients there think this is being of Nurse Ratched’s wickedness but Chief and McMurphy think it’s just the how the corrupt system works. Chief even calls it “the Combine”.
What I didn’t like about the book though is how sexually aware it made the reader of the characters. Of course everyone, including neurodivergent people, have sexual capacities but for patients mentally unsound it somehow felt inappropriate to refer to their sexuality. Almost in comparison to children – like how we wouldn’t find it acceptable to talk about a kid’s sexual potential. Maybe this is my own personal hurdle to overcome with neurodovergence, but this was an odd downside for me in the book. I can recognize this made the characters more “normal” and breaks through the neruodiveregent stereotypes that mentally ill people just aren’t sexual people at all, that they’re too innocent, unaware and incapable, but I still didn’t like it.
Overall, I found Cuckoo’s Nest interesting, captivating, and Chief to be very likable. Through looking up more information on Chief, I found the Sparknotes website particularly interesting. The analysis on Chief there was very similar to the thoughts I had but also mentioned more specifically that Chief experienced a lot of dehumanization and that is likely that made him “insane” while he was in the asylum.