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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey - Barron's Booknotes
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Pauline Kael, When the Lights Go Down, 1980

Cuckoo's Nest appears more experimental and unconventional
than it actually is. The tone is irreverent and antiestablishment,
and the psychotic Indian narrator is original; but for the most
part Kesey has made skilful use of well-established techniques
and patterns. He draws upon the most familiar of myth
patterns-the savior and sacrificial hero, death and rebirth, and
the search for the father. He also alludes frequently to popular
types from American folk tradition and popular culture. His
patterns of imagery are unmistakably explicit and developed in
conventional ways, and the structure of the novel is clear and
symmetrical. The novel's success results from a skillful
application of established literary methods to an apparently
iconoclastic theme. The iconoclasm is more apparent than real
because the Establishment is largely caricatured and the values
asserted are basically those at the heart of Western American

Stephen L. Tanner, Ken Kesey, 1983

Big Nurse speaks for the fixed pattern, the unbreakable routine,
the submission of individual will to mechanical, humourless
control. McMurphy speaks an older American language of
freedom, unhindered movement, self-reliance, anarchic humour
and a trust in the more animal instincts.

Tony Tanner, City of Words, 1971

Kesey creates finally in McMurphy a modern unhero or anti-
hero who expands himself, through a gradual shift in his
concern from himself to those around him, into the role of the
traditional hero. It is a strange and preposterous role... In the
modern world, such a hero, individualistic to the point of
disaffiliation but at the same time altruistic to the point of self-
sacrifice, is by definition absurd; and all people and actions
touched by such heroism are tinted by its absurdity.

Joseph J. Waldmeir, "Two Novelists of the Absurd: Heller and
Kesey," 1964

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

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