Parallels Between the Life of Ken Kesey and One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest

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Barbaric treatments for mental patients such as lobotomies and electric shock therapy were often used in mid-twentieth century psychiatric wards. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, set in one of these wards, is a fictional novel about committed mental patient R. P. McMurphy and his power struggle with the emasculating Nurse Ratched. The mastermind behind this novel, Ken Kesey, was a prominent figure in American counter-culture who struggled with figures of power during his lifetime as well. Ken Kesey reflects his life in the novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in various ways including the setting and the hallucinogenic experiences he shares with the narrator.
Ken Kesey and the narrator of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Chief Bromden, both experienced hallucinations in their life. Kesey was an important figure in American counter-culture and experimented heavily with LSD and other hallucinogens (Wolfe). “He admitted that he wrote the novel while working as a night attendant at the Menlo Park Veterans Hospital, and that he wrote part of it while under the influence of drugs” (Reilly). It is evident that the time he spent working as an orderly impacted the content of the book through the setting and the characters, most prominently Chief Bromden. The Chief is a schizophrenic, half native-american who “seeks refuge in madness from what he calls the “Combine.” a term he coins to characterize organized society” (Carnes 5). The Chief often compares things going on in the ward to machinery. Whenever the Chief has these delusions he calls it the “fog”. In the beginning of Part 1, when Nurse Ratched is first introduced, the chief compares her to what seems like a mechanical monster (Kesey 22). Throughout the novel, the Chief’s delusio...

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...esey were significant contributions to mid-century American literature.

Works Cited

Carnes, Bruce. “Ken Kesey.” 1974. PDF file.
Fried, Joshua. “What a Trip.” Stanford Magazine. Stanford University, Jan. 2002. Web. 10 Apr. 2014.
Gilliland, Herbert C. “Ken Kesey.” Research Guide to Biography & Criticism. Vol. 6. N.p.: n.p., 1991. 445-49. Literary Reference Center. Web. 10 Apr. 2014.
Kesey, Ken. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. New York: Penguin, 1962. Print.
Macdonald, Andrew, and Gina Macdonald. “Ken Kesey.” Magill’s Survey of American Literature. Rev. ed. Ipwich: Salem, 2006. 1-8. Literary Reference Center. Web. 10 Apr. 2014.
Reilly, Edward C., and David W. Cole. “Ken Kesey.” Critical Survey of Long Fiction. 4th ed. Ipwich: Salem, 2010. 1-9. Literary Reference Center. Web. 10 Apr. 2014.
Wolfe, Tom. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. New York: Picador, 1968. Print.
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