This grim satire, first published in 1962, is set among the patients and workers in a mental institution. It tells the story (narrated by an inmate) of an energetic con man who seeks institutionalization as a means of escaping the rigors of a prison work farm. Before long, in order to reduce the sexual and emotional impotence of the men at the institution, he began to challenge the dictatorial Nurse Ratched, irrevocably altering the destiny of those in the ward. The story is made up of series of skirmishes between McMurphy and Big Nurse. McMurphy became a hero, changing the life of the inmates, but paid dearly for his individualism.
The novel's secondary characters were based on real-life individuals whom Kesey met while working at the Veterans' Administration Hospital. As research for the novel, he worked the graveyard shift in the psychiatric ward and actually subjected himself to a real-life shock treatment. The setting of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest takes place at the end of the 1950s, when many of the nation's younger generation began to challenge conformity. Nurse Ratched personified the power and control exhibited by large government and businesses. The Beat Culture began at this time and continued with other countercultures and finally to the hippies of the 1960s. Young Americans began to question those in power. They formed a subgroup in American society that historians termed the counterculture. This band of political protesters gave rise to the hippies, a collection of mostly young people dedicated to peace, love and the search for beauty of life. Kesey was one of those hooked on a new mind-altering drug known as LSD. LSD was considered both a blessing (medical treatment for mental disorders) and a curse (unpleasant reactions and addiction) for American society. LSD served as a unifying vehicle that would later define the entire counterculture of the 1960s. One... [continues]
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