One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest: McMurphy
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, with its meaningful message of individualism, was an extremely influential novel during the 1960's. In addition, its author, Ken Kesey, played a significant role in the development of the counterculture of the 60's; this included all people who did not conform to society's standards, experimented in drugs, and just lived their lives in an unconventional manner. Ken Kesey had many significant experiences that enabled him to create One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. As a result of his entrance into the creative writing program at Stanford University in 1959 (Ken 1), Kesey moved to Perry Lane in Menlo Park. It was there that he and other writers first experimented with psychedelic drugs. After living at Perry Lane for a while, Kesey's friend, Vik Lovell, informed him about experiments at a local V.A. hospital in which volunteers were paid to take mind-altering drugs (Wolfe 321). Kesey's experiences at the hospital were his first step towards writing Cuckoo's Nest. Upon testing the effects of the then little-known drug, LSD, "
he was in a realm of consciousness he had never dreamed of before and it was not a dream or delirium but part of his awareness (322)." This awareness caused him to believe that these psychedelic drugs could enable him to see things the way they were truly meant to be seen.
After working as a test subject for the hospital, Kesey was able to get a job working as a psychiatric aide. This was the next significant factor in writing the book. "Sometimes he would go to work high on acid (LSD) (323)." By doing so, he was able to understand the pain felt by the patients on the ward. In addition, the job allowed him to examine everything that went on within the confines of the hospital. From these things, Kesey obtained exceptional insight for writing One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. To make the novel seem as realistic as possible, he loosely based the characters on the personalities of people in the ward; also, his use of drugs while writing allowed him to make scenes such as Chief Bromden's (The Chief is the narrator of the story. He is a Native American who happens to be a paranoid schizophrenic.) dreams much more vivid (Ken 2). As mentioned in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, "
certain passages ¾ like Chief Broom [Chief Bromden] in his schizophrenic fogs ¾ [it] was true vision, a little of what you could see if you opened the doors of perception, friends (Wolfe 328).
Ken Kesey's altered mental state while he wrote Cuckoo's Nest is what truly makes it unique. The novel's message of rebelling against authority was very influential to the counterculture generation of the 1960's. Kesey and his writing became a key factor in a decade filled with drugs and anti-establishment feelings.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest takes place in a mental hospital in which the patients' individuality is suppressed by the head nurse, Nurse Ratched. When a sane con-man (Randle P. McMurphy) has himself committed to avoid a prison sentence, the machine-like order that had previously existed on the ward is immediately challenged. Initially, McMurphy is a very selfish man whose only desire is to cause problems for authority figures, Nurse Ratched in particular, and to make life for himself as easy as possible. Eventually, this all changes as the battle between himself and Nurse Ratched becomes their battle for the souls of the inmates. McMurphy's struggle to "free" the other inmates is a difficult one, ultimately resulting in his own destruction; however, through his death, the other patients are able to realize their own sense of self and they escape the ward. Although McMurphy works to save all the inmates, the schizophrenic, Chief Bromden, is the main target of his attentions. The Chief is the largest, most powerful man on the ward, but is made to feel weak and inferior by staying there. Upon realizing his own value...
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