One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey, was published in 1962. The story is set in a mental hospital and is narrated by the character Chief Bromden. Chief Bromden tells the story of a fellow inmate, Randle McMurphy, who is in the hospital to avoid serving the rest of his prison sentence on the claim of insanity. Randle McMurphy is rebellious and stands up to the cruel Nurse Ratchet all throughout the novel. The novel discusses the various treatments given to patients in the mental facility such as anti-psychotic drugs, electroshock therapy, and lobotomies.
Randle McMurphy receives electroshock therapy and is eventually ordered to undergo a lobotomy. He is suffocated in the end by Chief Bromden before his escape. The novel was influenced by events and experiences in Ken Kesey’s own life. One major influential factor in writing One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest was Ken Kesey’s work at a Veteran’s Administration hospital in Palo Alto, California (Barnard, par.
11). Ken Kesey first went to the hospital to volunteer for experiments using drugs. Kesey was paid to ingest a number of psychedelic substances including LSD, an experience that led to his own experimentation with hallucinogenics in order to heighten consciousness” (Ken, par. 8). Later on Ken Kesey was hired to work at the hospital. “He was hired as an aide at the hospital where he worked third shift” (Ken, par. 8). His work at the hospital and the drugs had a major impact in his life. According to Whitley and Goodwin: He started to feel that the patients were not really crazy after all, just more individualized than society was willing to accept.
Parts of this novel were written while he was under the influence of LSD and peyote. Kesey’s specialty at the time was green Kool-Aid laced with LSD (par. 2). Ken Kesey based the secondary characters in the book on the real-life people he met at the Veteran’s Administration hospital (Whitley and Goodwin, par. 3). While in the hospital, Ken Kesey actually underwent real life shock treatment. This allowed him to capture the fear of being subjected to such treatments and write about it in such graphic detail.
Another way the drugs influence the novel is by how the novel is told. Chief Bromden receives Thorazine, which is an anti-psychotic drug. Ken Kesey was under the influence of LSD. It makes sense that the point-of-view of the novel would be that of a narrator under the influence of drugs. In addition to his work at the hospital and his experiments with drugs, other factors played a part in creating the novel. The second factor that influenced Ken Kesey’s novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was the time period. Ken Kesey wrote the book in 1959. 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 Ratchet 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” (Whitley and Goodwin, par. 3). Kesey was interested by the beat culture. “The term ‘beat generation’ was introduced by Jack Kerouac sometime around 1948 to describe his social circle.
The Beat Generation, also known as the beat movement, were a group of American writers who emerged in the 1950s” (Parkins, pars. 5-6). The beat generation was a mix of ideas. Parkins says, “The underlying philosophy was visionary enlightenment, Zen Buddhism, Amerindian culture. A common theme that linked them all together was a rejection of the prevailing American middle-class values, the purposelessness of modern society and the need for withdrawal and protest” (par. 7). In fact, one of the main themes of the book was subjugation of freedom.
Just as Nurse Ratchet represents authority, the opposition to power is definitely represented by the character Randle McMurphy. Randle McMurphy is a rebellious, free spirited, gambling type of man who was always challenging Nurse Ratchet’s authority and encouraging the other patients to rebel against Nurse Ratchet and the other staff. He also encourages escape. He throws a party and helps the thirty-year old virgin, Billy Bibbit, loose his virginity to a hooker. When Randle attacks Nurse Ratchet because of Billy’s suicide, she orders for him to have a lobotomy.
Lobotomies are a treatment where part of the brain is cut. The lobotomy leaves Randle a vegetable. His freedom and his life are taken away from him. It is obvious the beat movement had an influence in his life. “While Kesey’s teachers at Stanford had a significant impact on his writing, he was also greatly influenced by his fellow students and the cultural movements surrounding the community” (Ken, par. 7). The last major influence that allowed Ken Kesey to write his novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, was most likely himself and his own personality.
The man he is to become and his popularity is seen in the character, Randle McMurphy. After the novel was published, Ken Kesey grew in popularity and attracted a weird crowd. “As the unorthodox community around Kesey grew, it attracted more attention from both neighbors and law enforcement” (Ken, par. 13). He had followers exactly like Randle McMurphy had in the novel. He also had authority after him. On April 23, 1965, the police arrested Kesey and he was charged with possession of marijuana.
Following a second drug arrest at the beginning of 1966, Kesey left the United States for Mexico to avoid prosecution. He remained in Mexico for the next nine months, where he, his family, and followers continued living a lifestyle similar to the one they had established in La Honda. When Kesey returned to the United States, he eventually received two light sentences totaling nine months and a $1500 fine (Ken, par. 13). Even though Ken Kesey would not have know he would be arrested on drug charges in his future, his personality much like Randle McMurphy’s lead to those future events.
So it is safe to assume he used himself as inspiration for the character Randle. In sum, there were many factors in Ken Kesey’s life that contributed to the creation of his novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. His time spent working and volunteering at Veteran’s Administration hospital, his drug use, his involvement and interest in the beat culture, and himself. The novel was so successful and influential it was turned into a film. Over forty years later, the novel and film both continue to be successful.