18 July 2010

Day 113: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey.  ISBN: 9780141181226.

This is one of those books that I liked, but didn't like.  And yes, this is going to be a sort of review post, because I don't think I can let this one slip.  There are things I hate about this book, but unlike Catcher in the Rye, I can actually see a lot of value in it.

For one thing, there's quite a bit of blatant racism and sexism present.  This is not something I'm comfortable with.  At all.  On the other hand, this was a work of its time and I think it accurately depicts how people actually thought.  It was normal to casually harass women and throw around racial epithets.  It explains my grandfather's beliefs and put it into a context for me that I wouldn't otherwise have had.  Yes, my grandfather was racist, but at that time everyone (particularly in his economic class) was racist and slung around terms that I thankfully never heard from him first hand.

However, I also wonder if maybe this behavior was intensified because of the situation these men were in.  Most of the patients were white, and here they were being run by a large breasted matron (seriously, her breasts were mentioned often) and a squad of black orderlies.  In a time when these were considered inferior beings that was probably a difficult notion to wrap a straight white male head around, especially if already put into a situation of powerlessness (institutionalization).  In some ways they actually used racism and sexism to regain some amount of power, or at least what they perceived as power.  I'm not saying this is right, because obviously it's not, but it's interesting that this was part of the white male psyche at the time.

There was also quite a bit of insinuation that the black orderlies buggered the inmates.  I don't know if that actually happened on the ward, but this is another instance of the power play that goes on in this book, and it adds another element of race/sex/power/powerlessness.  Most white men aren't used to being buggered, and even more aren't used to being forcibly buggered.  This would be another reason to try to regain some sort of authority in a situation where they actually have none.  I somehow feel that this may also be a little bit of the author's racism showing through, because it appears that all of that black orderlies participate in this activity, and therefore all blacks must be sexual deviants* (but then, that may be because Nurse Ratched hand picks the orderlies).

This novel also helped me discover exactly why I don't like Catcher in the Rye.  The narrator is fucking crazy.  I can't get in to crazy head space.  It noticeably agitates me, both physically and my way of thinking.  It's almost like anyone who can write crazy that well has to be crazy/stoned/both.  I'm pretty sure Kesey was both.  Bromden was a little easier to deal with than Caulfield, simply because I liked Bromden better.  He actually had shit to complain about (being threatened with shock treatment and lobotomy), where the worst that Caulfield really had to complain about was "a bunch of phonies" when he was the biggest damn phony there was.  This is also why I didn't like the movie Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.  The crazy really seems to get to me.  I don't know if that means that I'm prone to craziness myself, or if it's so different from the way I think and see the world that it's completely disorienting and therefore unpleasant, but I think I'll be avoiding Kesey, Hunter S. Thompson, and anyone else who writes the crazy particularly well.  I salute your efforts, really I do, but I like my headspace where it is.

*I rather hope no one takes that out of context.

1 comment:

  1. You should consider reading The Electric Kool-Aid Acid test. To put into Day 123 terms: It's like raw broccoli with yummy salad dressing. The narrator coats the story with an interesting point of view, and the plot definitely moves along. But by then end you either think the characters are heroes or fuck-wads. Guess which side I was on?


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