Posts Tagged ‘insanity’

Live free or die hard–“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” by Ken Kesey

We’ve heard of all the crazy shit that goes on in mental institutions. Being locked away in a prison-like cell, all drugged up by stone-faced nurses and being surrounded by what society deems as “insane” people isn’t the most ideal situation one can be in. It’s as if being insane is the sane thing to do.

Told in the point-of-view of a patient, Ken Kesey’s story of a mental institution in the 50s is a reminder of how blurry the line is between sanity and insanity. Chief Bromden has been a patient in an Oregon psychiatric hospital for 10 years. Pretending to be deaf and dumb, he observes what goes on at the all-male hospital, but doesn’t do anything about it.

The ward is run by Nurse Ratched, a composed ex-Army nurse who takes joy in manipulating and degrading everyone. When Randal McMurphy arrives, however, the mood suddenly changes in the depressing ward. Claiming that Nurse Ratched is a ball-cutter, the roughneck gambler makes a bet that he can make her lose her temper within a week. Let the battles begin.

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“The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath

A classic isn’t a classic because it has reached some measure of perfection on the page, but rather because it has resonated with more people on a deeper level than other books. This is the story of Esther, a bright college girl who has made a life out of winning scholarships and academic prizes, but is in danger of breaking under the pressure of expectations. Her narration is articulate and often truly funny. Her love of words comes through as she writes with precision about the sense of being under the bell jar.

Plath was, at heart, more of a poet than a novelist,  which is evident often enough in her prose. Her descriptions are lovely–and yes, at times, even poetic–and always minutely observed. This is a highly auto-biographical account by Plath of a young college girl finding that when she should be most excited about her life, she instead finds that things aren’t exactly as they seemed and that the culture of the 1950s doesn’t seem to allow for all that she wants. This transitional time in her life brings her to a period of deep depression and obsession with suicide.

When you’re in the throes of depression, no fortune, trip around the world, award, love, gorgeous weather, or satisfying work looks remotely bright. Some days it’s all you can do to take a shower. Life looks black, hopeless, and utterly without meaning, and Plath captures that well. Even though the novel is dark, it’s more about the spirit of survival when you are trapped inside yourself and fearful because the rest of the world expects something completely different from you–something you cannot give them.

-Vania Myers
Once you’re insane, the insanity will forever haunt you.
“Girl, Interrupted” is a memoir of the truest sense, in that the author explores simply her own understanding of her experience, her illness, and her surroundings. No, not insane like chopping-someone’s-dick-off-insane. Susanne Kaysen’s diagnosis, although the actual diagnosis is not revealed until the final chapters, is the overall theme of this book.

Kaysen, like many of her fellow patients, is straddling the line between sanity and insanity, between the world outside the hospital and the world inside. She identifies with both the other patients and the nurses, who each represent the world they inhabit. Even though she feels a connection with other “insane” patients, she also longs for the sense of normalcy that the nurses bring in from the outside.

The book, with larger than normal print, is not even 170 pages in the Vintage edition I read and there’s plenty of white space, as well as transcripts of Kaysen’s mental diagnoses within. In a sense, this sets up the piece to be quite poetic. In fact, this is where the poesy of the prose comes from, not the ability to craft gorgeous prose.

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