For others out there like me, who have not read this book before, the book takes place a particular ward of an unnamed psychiatric hospital in the 1960s, where Electro-Convulsive Therapy and Lobotomies were still commonplace (though fading from fashion). It centers around a battle of wills between a new resident who comes across as determined to overthrow the system, and the nurse in charge of the ward who is determined to run her ward with unwavering inflexibility.
One of the things that I enjoyed about this book is it's ambiguity. As it is set entirely in a psychiatric institution amongst the "inmates"; and the narrator himself is a resident thought by all to be deaf and mute; you never quite know what the truth is, and what actually happened. I can almost picture the book being re-written with alternating chapters written by "Chief", the actual narrator of the book, and the "Big Nurse" who comes across as the antagonist when the story is told from the point of view of the residents. It could then be a novel of perspectives.
I know that this book is a favourite amongst English teachers, and I don't have to think very hard about it to see themes that would make great essay-writing topics for a class full of students - The Tragic Hero; The Underdog fighting the system... I know that one of my sisters ended up studying this book in high school, but I somehow missed it. I'm glad that I have read it; and also that I don't have to write an essay on it!