An article in the Journal of Medical Humanities has a fascinating look at one of playwright Samuel Beckett’s early novels – an exploration of madness and mental health care that foreshadowed One Flew Over the Cuckoo Nest.
Beckett is best known for Waiting for Godot, but his novel Murphy was previously one of the best known literary treatments of mental ill health until Ken Kesey’s famous work.
It turns out that Kesey gives a knowing nod to Beckett’s earlier work through his character Randle McMurphy.
As far as twentieth-century accounts of mental health nursing and psychiatry go, Beckett’s (1937) tale of Murphy has been much over-shadowed by Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo Nest. For better or for worse, Kesey’s nurse Ratchet became the epitome of the 20th century asylum attendant. But it was a notable act of approbation by Kesey to name his main protagonist, Randle P. MacMurphy, with due deference to Beckett; ‘MacMurphy’ literally meaning ‘son of Murphy.’
The comparison between the two novels is interesting, because Kesey drew his inspiration from his time working as a staff member on a psychiatric ward while Beckett drew his inspiration from being a patient.
Link to locked article (the humanities are deadly in the wrong hands).