Caitlyn Blue (lifechiaroscuro) wrote in 50bookchallenge,
Caitlyn Blue

Book Reviews #1 and #2: 1984 and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest


So - admit, these two books were for school. But my life is super busy right now, and they were quite interesting books.
(Also - I have no idea what happened to the summaries - they're in my own words but they sound like something on the back of a book jacket.)

A summary of 1984:
For Outer Party members, Inner party members are great leaders, Big Brother is their idol, and the common people are subhuman. The ideal member is a fanatic when on the topic of the Party and its pursuits and near-emotionless the rest of the time. He believes whatever the Party tells him. But in a society where most people seem to go blithely on through their lives, Winston Smith sees the truth. And this truth leads to rebellion.

A summary of the plot of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest:
Chief is paranoid and delusional a "Chronic" (a patient who cannot be fixed) in the Big Nurse's mental ward. The men of the ward are beaten-down, held completely under the manipulation and control of the Nurse. But when McMurphy, a new patient, arrives, the whole dynamic or the ward begins to change. And as Chief's mind gradually clears, it becomes evident that the battle between McMurphy and the Big Nurse can only end in the triumph of one and the ruin of the other.

Right, then. These two books. What struck me about them would be the commentary on society, and on how far people can be manipulated - even without their own knowledge. From the totalitarian state of Oceania and the awe-inspiring thrall of doublethink to the terror and insanity of the ward, the books both send powerful messages. It was also just great to finally read these books - to understand why 1984 is the warning against totalitarian government and why people say Kesey is questioning the nature of insanity.

Also, if anyone wants more of my thoughts on the books and/or a conversation starter:

[An Essay on One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and 1984]In both 1984 and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, insanity certainly makes its presence known. The idea is inseparable from the plot of each book, though the type of madness differs. In One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest the Chief's psychosis guides the narration of the whole story. The cultural insanity of 1984 creates the basis for the novel. One central concept of both, however, is the individual's perception of reality. As Chief says, "it's the truth, even if it didn't happen". Although we think of reality as objective, one person's "truth" can still differ from another's.

In 1984, doublethink attempts to erase this concept. Both Outer and Inner Party members have given themselves over to the will of the Party - even to the point of altering their memories to fit the version of reality that the Party gives them. This seems particularly mad when one considers the Inner Party members, who order all falsifications and oversee all change in Oceania, yet apparently are capable of convincing themselves that no change has occurred.

Cultural lunacy has worked its way into every aspect of Oceania's society. Ingsoc and the rule of the Party form almost the antithesis of Western society. Orwell's book was intended as a warning, and he makes his message plain in the end, but the reader spends most of the book horrified by the Party and its members. The Outer Party members are expected to be nearly emotionless most of the time and fanatical the rest of it. As O'Brien tells Orwell: "In our world there will be no emotions except fear, rage, triumph and self-abasement. There will be no loyalty, except loyalty towards the Party There will be no love, except love of Big Brother." [Orwell 220]

The Party nears its goal even in Winston's time. Adults rarely show emotion - Winston implies that it is something of a risk - unless they are of a type like Parsons, who seems to be almost constantly happy as a result of his patriotism and near-worship of the Party. The only context in which they express any type of intense emotion is during spectacles such as Hate Week or the Two Minutes of Hate, or when speaking of the Party's enemies and the glory of the Party and Big Brother. The younger generation is, in a word, abominable. They are educated in the principles of the Party and skills such as doublethink from a young age. These teachings are reinforced by mandatory groups such as the Spies and the Youth League, and the voluntary Junior Anti-Sex League. If Parsons' children provide any indication, the youths of the Outer Party are vicious and merciless, capable of turning in absolutely anyone. These children are being molded into exactly the type of people the Inner Party members want under their control.

O'Brien's example, however, shows that the Inner Party cultivates a particular type of sociopathy. [Spoiler]O'Brien fully acknowledges the true reasons for their rule and the true principles and goals behind it. They care for no one and nothing except power and control, and their ability to keep it. People exist only as a variable or statistic, something to be controlled and manipulated. Even Big Brother seems to be an afterthought - a figurehead for the masses, a being to venerate in place of a god. In a way, it allows one to make sense of the insanity of Oceania. [Spoiler]The culture that the Party has produced is designed to support the continued existence of their power.

In One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, the Big Nurse seems to have something of a similar mindset, albeit on a lesser scale. The patients, even the Acutes, are not really seen as people, not on the same level as those outside the ward. They are beings to be placated, taken care of, and, above all, to be controlled. The Big Nurse has such absolute control over the ward that not even the doctor, who is supposed to be in charge, can make a single decision without her permission. She resists all change, and ruthlessly attempts to stamp out any and all signs of confidence that anyone shows. In doing so, she often intentionally exacerbates the Acutes' problems.

This is one of the places that the matter of perception comes into play. [Spoiler]Most of the Acutes are in the ward voluntarily, and McMurphy is right to be incredulous about this. It seems that if they were sane enough to check themselves in, many would probably be sane enough to live outside the ward, if only with some supervision. With the exception of the fight that McMurphy and Chief get into with the aides, none of the Acutes ever become violent, or even particularly excited. Harding and Billy Bibbet are not even unstable at all - they just have self-confidence and self-worth issues. Sefelt and Fredrickson seem to be rather co-dependent, but may very well have no problems other than epilepsy.

Even Chief, who is definitely insane, has delusions that make sense, when taken in context of his history, and hallucinations that are nearly always metaphorical. [Spoiler]For example, it is implied that Chief has been under the control of others his whole life, forming a basis for the idea of the Combine. His view of the world is rooted in machinery because of his former job as an electrician in a war zone. His hallucinations of the Big Nurse swelling up when she is angry or Ellis being nailed to the wall are simply exaggerations of the real situations.

The binding similarity between the madness of 1984 and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, however, is the role that society plays in it. The definition of madness is largely determined by society in these books. As Kesey is said to have implied with his book, madness can be entirely a matter of perspective.

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