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

THE CRITICS

[McMurphy's] "defeat" along with Kesey's faultless portrayal
of institutionalized and aberrant minds, has as much as
anything else concealed the heroic fable which is the
foundation for this black comedy. But it is not defeat. This hero
is too much of an individual, too powerful, actually too
successful for that. Though he does not escape, his ally, the
Columbia Indian Chief Broom does, and in him the natural
man ultimately triumphs. For it is Chief Broom, the Indian
pretending dumbness in the face of civilization's blind
indifference to him, who rescues McMurphy's mindless body
by choking it to death, and goes over the hill to his own
freedom among the wild fields and the flowing rivers-the
natural world-of his childhood. McMurphy has set him free,
first by returning his hulk to life, then by pointing the way to
escape and destroying himself for the sake of the only other
truly human figure in the novel.

John A. Barsness, "Ken Kesey: The Hero In Modern Dress,"
1969



At one point, McMurphy characterizes the inmates of the
hospital as "victims of a matriarchy." In Kesey's view, modern
society is a reflection of womanish values-archetypically
responsible, cautious, repressive, deceitful, and solemn. One
must look to the spirit of the whore if one would know what is
best in women, and what can best bring out what is vital in
men. There is no doubt that Kesey labors under a most
reactionary myth, involving the mystique of male sexuality,
which sees men as intrinsically better than women in terms of
the dynamism and strength they can impart to the universe.

Robert Boyers, "Porno Politics," 1968

[Cuckoo's Nest's] very sentimentality, good-guys bad-guys
melodrama, occasional obviousness and thinness of texture, I
find-like the analogous things in James Fennimore Cooper-
not incidental flaws, but part of the essential method of its
madness...

...Everywhere in Kesey, as a matter of fact, the influence of
comics and, especially, comic books is clearly perceptible, in
the mythology as well as in the style; for like those of many
younger writers of the moment, the images and archetypal
stories which underlie his fables are not the legends of Greece
and Rome, not the fairy tales of Grimm, but the adventures of
Captain Marvel and Captain Marvel, Jr., those new-style
Supermen who, sometime just after World War II, took over
the fantasy of the young.

Leslie Fiedler, The Return of the Vanishing American, 1968

Kesey's mode of simplification voices a moral vision rooted in
clear-cut opposition between Good and Evil, between natural
man and society, between an older mode of existence honoring
masculine physical life and a modern day machine culture
inimical to it, between the Indian fishing village and the
hydroelectric dam. Modern society standardizes men and
straitjackets its misfits; it causes the illness which it
quarantines. The spiritual residue of the American Old West
opposes the machine culture; but the West, as such, is doomed
like McMurphy.

Terry G. Sherwood, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and the
Comic Strip," 1971.

...Kesey is systematic in fusing Christian mythology with the
American myth of the white man and the noble red man
fighting against the encroachment of civilization, represented
by women. Though in modern society women are as much
subject to the processes of mechanized conformity as men
(some say more), the inmates of this symbolic hospital are all
male, and McMurphy calls them 'victims of a matriarchy.'...
The novel is comic-book Freud: the man who achieves his
manhood (keeping women under him, happy whores in bed) is
the free man-he's the buckaroo with the power of laughter.

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