Ken Kesey’s legendary cult classic novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was released fifty-five years ago today on 10th June 1962.
It has since become one of the most celebrated and influential English-language novels of the 20th century and is an unforgettable and intricate display of mental health in relation to the institutions that were supposed to ‘restore’ it.
Released during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest sparked a revolution of thought. The different ways in which the mind reacts to drugs, pills and shock treatment, as well as to the traumas that are inflicted on it hint at its fragility. McMurphy, Bromden and Nurse Ratched taught the world a valuable lesson: unlike bodily illnesses, the mind illnesses of different people cannot be approached similarly, and especially not through electric shocks.
Alongside the 1975 film adaptation of the novel starring Jack Nicholson as McMurphy, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest challenged the popular mindset: what does it mean to be ‘insane’? The fact that McMurphy’s rebellious behaviour made him the biggest issue of Nurse Ratched’s asylum, while he only faked his insanity to avoid prison raised a huge question as to the way in which mental health was approached in the mid-20th century.
Thus, the influence of the novel on the American psychiatric system earned the patients more rights, representing a huge milestone in the progress people have made in dealing with mental health.
Watch the trailer for the 1975 film adaptation starring Jack Nicholson below: