Drugs and Insanity Against Society
The author of the novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Ken Keasey, received his inspiration for the book while volunteering at a veteran's hospital. This is where he was first introduced to LSD. The moment he tried it, he became addicted, and began experimenting on himself with the drugs, observing the effects. The novel deals with the tyrannical rule of head Nurse Ratched in a mental hospital somewhere in Oregon. She runs all business and daily life in the asylum to her every whim and rules the ward by fear and manipulation. This has gone on for as long as the narrator, Chief Bromden, can remember. However a new patient, Randle McMurphy, enters the hospital and begins to wreak havoc upon the system put in place by the nurse. In One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Keasey, the author demonstrates the use of psychotropic drugs and its effects in conjunction with counterculture through the tyrannically controlled mental hospital ruled by Nurse Ratched. The asylum setting of the novel also gives access to observe the characterization of the novel by analyzing the different strains of insanity exhibited by each patient. The representation of the individual vs. society come through the conflict of Randle McMurphy and the social order of the asylum. The 1950s, during which Ken Keasey wrote One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, saw arise in a literary movement known as counterculture, along with counterculture come was a large role in the creation of this novel, the use of psychotropic drug, LSD. The increasingly popular counterculture movement focus on literary elements that were outside of what was considered mainstream at the time. “The late 1950s, the time period in which the book was written and set, saw the end of a decade in which people outside the mainstream were often viewed with suspicion” (Malin 227). The style in which the novel was written involves powerful emotional and sensational imagery, sometime creating scenes which were outright revolting, which was representative of counterculture at the time. “They're out there. Black Boys in white suits up before me to commit sex acts in the hall and get it mopped up before I can catch them” (Keasey 3). The counterculture that had just appeared during this period is expressed in this novel by the dark, sadistic, and overall unusual style of writing used. The events and dialogue are especially in themselves vulgar in nature and at times simply evil. A byproduct, as well as an arguable cause of the counterculture movement in the 1950s was the rapidly increasing use of the psychotropic drug, LSD. “From the time Keasey experienced his first dosage of LSD while a volunteer at the Menlo Park veterans hospital, the young man – who had seldom drunk even beer – was hooked. LSD is one of the most powerful and mind-altering drugs” (Tanner 47). In the novel, the effects of LSD such as hallucinations are seen through the patients own symptoms of insanity, particularly Chief Bromden's. “She's swelling up, swells till her body's splitting out the white uniform and she's let her arms section out long enough to wrap around the three of them five, six times... so she relly lets herself go and her painted smile twists, stretches to an open snarl, and she blows up bigger and bigger, big as a tractor” (Keasey 5). The description of Nurse Ratched's “swelling” and warping, and the fog later on in the novel that supposedly fills the asylum halls, claimed to be dispersed by the combine to slow a man's though, so that they are in a constant stupor, all serve to portray the various effects of LSD. The behavior of the patients in the asylum is also an example of the mind-altering implications of LSD, which in turn further the counterculture style of the novel. In the 1950s, as the popularity of LSD became widespread, and counterculture literature was no longer looked upon as inherently revolting and wrong, Keasey wrote this novel incorporating these subjects...
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Tanner, Stephen. Ken Keasy. Boston: Twayne Publishers Inc, 1983. Print.
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