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Summary of Dale Wasserman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

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Cuckoo’s Nest By Ken Kesey One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest was published in 1963 in the middle of the Civil Rights movement and great changes in how psychology and psychiatry were being approached in America. This book has been adapted to a play by Dale Wasserman in 1963 and adapted for a film in 1975. The Protagonist: Randle Patrick McMurphy The protagonist of this novel is Randle Patrick McMurphy, a wild, larger-than-life character who brings life to the ward. He was admitted after having himself declared insane in order to be transferred to the mental institution. McMurphy is thirty five years old and was in the military

He has earned a Distinguished Service Cross in Korea after leading an escape from a communist prison camp. He was dishonorably discharged for insubordination. After that, his wild behavior had led him to a history of street brawls and barroom fights, including multiple arrests for drunkenness, assault and battery, disturbing the peace, and many others as well as one for rape.

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Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is based largely on his experiences with mental patients

Through the conflict between Nurse Ratched and Randle Patrick McMurphy, the novel explores the themes of individuality and rebellion against conformity, ideas that were widely discussed at a time when the United States was committed to opposing communism and totalitarian regimes around the world. However, Kesey’s approach, directing criticism at American institutions themselves, was revolutionary in a way that would find greater expression during the sixties. The novel, published in 1962, was an immediate success. With his newfound wealth, Kesey purchased a farm in California, where he and his friends experimented heavily with LSD. He soon became the focus of a growing drug cult. He believed that using LSD to achieve altered states of mind could improve society. Kesey’s high profile as an LSD guru in the midst of the public’s growing hysteria against it and other drugs attracted the attention of legal authorities. Kesey fled to Mexico after he was caught trying to flush some marijuana down a toilet. When he returned to the United States, he was arrested and sent to jail for several months. In 1964, Kesey led a group of friends called the Merry Pranksters on a road trip across the United States in a bus named Furthur. The participants included Neil Cassady, who had also participated in the 1950s version of this trip with Jack Kerouac and company. The trip involved massive consumption of LSD and numerous subversive adventures. The exploits of the Merry Pranksters are detailed in Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. This book became a must-read for the hippie generation, and much of the generation’s slang and philosophy comes directly from its pages.

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This was not only beneficial to the studio but also on the main actor Jack Nicholson himself and according to one report, “By 1978, Jack’s share of the Cuckoo’s Nest windfall grew to $15 million, becoming the kind of annuity that just kept on giving … completed on a $4.4 million budget, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest became the seventh-highest grossing movie ever” (McDougal, 2008, p.200). Jack Nicholson, Milos Forman and Haskell Wexler came to Hollywood just at the right time when the movie industry in the United States was in the cusp of revolution. According to insiders, “The conditions for a revolution in Hollywood certainly seemed to be in place in the latter part of the sixties. There was the decaying regime: a studio system run by aging autocrats whose commitment to standardized technique and innocuous content seemed to make it impossible for genuine film artists to emerge in Hollywood” (Bernardino, 1991, p.1). Aside from that there was tremendous pressure to change

The bottomline is falling in most studios and this simply means that if it cannot produce a good movie that people will pay to watch then the golden days are over and they will have to learn how to file bankruptcy. According to film historians, “There was an external crisis: the initial challenge of television followed by the consolidation of its position as the mass medium, a situation which by the end of the sixties had led to truly alarming declines in the box office receipts of American movies” (Bernardino, 1991, p.1).

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In sum, according to labeling theory, an individual can embrace the negative traits that others bestow upon him/her eventually making them part of his/her own identity

It seems that this is what had happened to Billy because after the positive reinforcement offered to him by Randle he started changing. For instance, when Billy talked to Randle his earlier stutter seemed to disappear. There are several theories of deviant behavior that help explain the characters in the film “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. Most of the characters seem to adhere to the stipulations of the labeling theory. Nurse Ratched represented conformity that might have been explained as deviance by others. All the characters in this film exhibit a certain form of deviance.

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Bernardoni, J., 1991. New Hollywood. NC: McFarland & Company, Inc.

Conner, F., 2002. Hollywood’s Most Wanted: The Top 10 Book of Lucky Breaks, Prima Donnas, Box Office Bombs and Other Oddities. VA: Brassey’s, Inc.

McDougal, D., 2008. Five Easy Decades: How Jack Nicholson Became the Biggest Movie Star in Modern Times. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Schaefer, D. and Salvato, L. 1984. Masters of Light: Conversations with Contemporary Cinematographers. CA: California University Press.

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