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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey - Barron's Booknotes
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OTHER ELEMENTS

SETTING

The hospital, Dr. Spivey says, "is a little world Inside that is a
made-to-scale prototype of the big world Outside." The literary
term for such a setting is a microcosm (from the Greek for
small universe). Most of the action in Cuckoo's Nest takes
place in a world that is indeed limited and specific-one ward of
one mental hospital in Oregon. But Kesey intends that limited
world to serve as a representative of a much larger one.

Mental hospitals have a long and not particularly inspiring
history in Europe and America. The first, such as Bedlam in
London, became symbols of chaos and cruelty. While waves of
reform in the 19th and 20th century improved life for patients
somewhat (as the public relations man insists) we see that, at
least in Nurse Ratched's ward, abuse both physical and
psychological is still rampant.



However, as grim as his descriptions of the hospital are, Kesey
is not simply writing a book that criticizes mental health
facilities. For we realize that the outside world is not much
better. There, Indian villages are destroyed to make way for
dams; the landscape is overrun with identical houses for
identical businessmen and their identical wives and children.
And any attempt to live a life in any way different is crushed.
The Chief calls this process the workings of the Combine; we
may see it simply as the workings of a modern society. By
showing us the similarities between the Inside and the Outside,
Kesey makes his book strike with considerable force-for we
come to see that the victims of the Nurse and the Combine are
not only Harding and Billy and the Chief, but perhaps we
ourselves as well.

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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey - Barron's Booknotes
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