It's hard to believe the title of the book and subsequent movie came from a nice, seemingly sweet, nursery rhyme:
Vintery Mintery Cutery Corn*
Vintery, mintery, cutery, corn,
Apple seed and apple thorn,
Wire, briar, limber lock
Three geese in a flock
One flew East
One flew West
And one flew over the cuckoo's nest.
*keep in mind there are several variations to this rhyme
There are all sorts of interpretations out there about why the author chose this title, most of them having to do with the obvious polarity presented in the rhyme and the conflict between Jack Nicholson's character, Randle, and the indomitable Nurse Ratched (whom I've based a character on in my latest book - how could I not?). I don't think you can go wrong with this interpretation, but I thought I'd try to add to it with my own observations.
First, I looked up vintery, mintery, and cutery on the internet. No luck. I then had to go old school and crack open my huge dictionary. Guess what? I didn't find them in there, either. Can you say, conspiracy theory? At this point, I'll assume they're made-up words (if anyone finds anything to the contrary, let me know!). Why put in made-up words? Perhaps because the author of the rhyme was a little out there and loving it? Or maybe it's because they're fun words to say. I have no idea what was going on in the original author's head, but they are fun words to say. Whatever the reason, their mysterious nature adds to the allure behind the poem and speaks to a mind that is different and unique, as are the minds of most mentally ill individuals.
An apple seed represents the beginning of life. An apple thorn, if it exists (in looking it up I found thorn apple, which is also known as loco weed, and is, among other things, a powerful hallucinogen), sounds a little more deadly. These two opposites lend credence to the polarity theory, but also, in my mind, say a little more. A person can start out innocent and full of life, like an apple seed, but through environment, can turn into something less wholesome, broken, perhaps. Certainly this idea could be applied to the character of Nurse Ratched, who was really kind of wretched.
Next comes the limber lock - what is it? I don't really know. This is the closest I came to finding out what one was...just a link and a picture (see left). I did find this: Another meaning for limber is a horse-drawn cart used to pull a field gun or caisson (a chest or wagon that stores ammo). I imagine the lock was to keep things in place or to keep the chest locked up. I'm not sure what the wire and the briar have to do with anything, though both are sharp and poky. Interpretation? Well, humans have been known to lock up their sharp and poky emotions, thus leading to mental illness. Ammo can represent those emotions - explosive when sparked. I might be stretching things here, but conjecture is the beginning of finding out the truth, right?
Now we come to the geese. How often have you seen three geese in a flock? I don't think I've ever seen that few. So what could the three mean? Freud postulated that our personalities are made up of three parts: the id, the ego, and the superego. Connect this idea to the flying part of the rhyme and you've got a personality that is split in three - one going one direction (the id, which is our selfish, impulsive side), another going the opposite way (the superego, our conscience), which leaves the ego (the part that acts as referee between the id and the superego) flying over a cuckoo's nest. We all know that cuckoo is another way of saying crazy. So what we have here is a person whose ability to keep himself stable and sane has broken down.
I don't know about you, but I love digging into the meaning behind things. I could be way off base with my analysis, but who cares? I might also be spot on.
Now I'm off, flying to parts unknown, and perhaps stopping at a cuckoo's nest along the way.
Here's my own little cuckoo's nest...Nepenthe Manor.