Parallels Between The Life Of Ken Kesey And One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest

1175 words - 5 pages

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 delusions decrease and he escapes from the ward. This is similar to how Kesey stops taking LSD in his old-age and escapes to a farm in Oregon with his wife (Carnes 7). Chief Bromden and Kesey, whether voluntary or otherwise, both had experience with seeing things that were not really there.
Another character that reflects the life of Ken Kesey is R.P. McMurphy. Both Kesey and the protagonist, R.P. McMurphy, struggled with figures of power in their life. Along with his frequent, illegal LSD use (Fried), Kesey evaded prosecution for a charge of possession of marijuana by fleeing to Mexico. He then returned because he was shocked by the poverty there. He spent five months in jail and the last month of his sentence in the Sheriff’s Honor Camp (Macdonald). Additionally, much of Kesey’s literature symbolizes his strong belief that the U.S. government was stripping people of their individual freedoms in the 1950’s and 60’s (Carnes 5). Kesey strongly supported anti-establishment movements and was an important figure in American counter-culture. Many supporters of this movement were greatly impacted by his literature (Gilliand). Nurse Ratched, the novel’s antagonist, symbolizes Kesey’s belief in an dehumanizing government. Throughout...

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