Alienists and alienation

Critical psychiatry in search of itself

Authored by: Janice Haaken

Handbook of Critical Psychology

Print publication date:  April  2015
Online publication date:  April  2015

Print ISBN: 9781848722187
eBook ISBN: 9781315726526
Adobe ISBN: 9781317537182


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An anthem to the Merry Pranksters and road rebels of the 1960s, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest celebrates the romantic impulses of the period. Published in 1962 and made into a film in 1975, Ken Kesey’s tale of the asylum secured a lasting place in the social imaginary. His vision of institutional confinement registers ambient anxieties in the culture, but Kesey was particularly attuned to psychological currents in American manhood. The crisis of the story unfolds as McMurphy, who maneuvered to get into the state hospital to escape jail time, discovers that most of his fellow patients entered the facility voluntarily. Under the control of the repressed and repressive Nurse Ratched, the men on the ward choose to stay even when given the chance to leave. Chief, a Native American hospitalized for catatonia who emerges as the sentient ally of the rebellious McMurphy, emancipates himself from the control of Nurse Ratched at the film’s conclusion. After the lobotomized McMurphy is wheeled onto the ward, mentally castrated for orchestrating a rebellion, Chief performs a mercy killing by smothering the tragic hero. Gathering up the strength within his massive frame, he then extracts a hydrotherapy machine from its plumbing fixtures and hurls it through a barred window of the day room. In the final scene, Chief jumps through the window casing and runs toward the Oregon hills, with a glorious sunrise over the Cascades signalling the dawn of a new era.

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