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Ken Kesey One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. His Life  Born in 1935  Raised on farms in Colorado and Oregon (Pacific Northwest and connection to nature.

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Presentation on theme: "Ken Kesey One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. His Life  Born in 1935  Raised on farms in Colorado and Oregon (Pacific Northwest and connection to nature."— Presentation transcript:

1 Ken Kesey One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

2 His Life  Born in 1935  Raised on farms in Colorado and Oregon (Pacific Northwest and connection to nature informed much of his work)  Married high school sweetheart; had 3 children  Scholarship brought him to Stanford University in 1958 to be a part of a graduate creative writing program. There he and his wife, Faye, moved into a house on Perry Lane, the bohemian sector of Palo Alto. Here he befriend some of the early Merry Pranksters and began writing Zoo.

3 Writing Cuckoo’s Nest  1960 volunteered to be subject in experiments with hallucinogenic drugs at Veterans Hospital at Menlo Park where he was paid to ingest various psychoactive drugs, including LSD-25. He was to report on the effects of the government-sponsored scientists conducting the experiments. He began taking the drugs back to Perry Lane. This dramatically changed his life

4 Writing Cuckoo’s Nest  Near end of experiments began working night shift in a mental ward of the VA hospital. Thought patients were not really crazy, just more “individualized’ than society was willing to accept  Parts of novel written while under influence of LSD

5 His Life  Success and sales of novel allowed him to buy a home in La Honda. Here he moved his family. There were no rules, fear was unknown and sleep was out of the question. There was a lot of pharmaceutical experimentation, expressionistic living and wild parties attended by Allen Ginsberg, the local Hells Angels and a section of San Francisco’ hip community

6 His Life  After completion of second novel, he decided to embark on a cross country trip. With the Merry Pranksters, he drove from San Francisco to New York in psychedelic painted bus to see Timothy Leary.

7 His Life  After trip renounced writing and set out to explore other possibilities. He held publicized acid tests- a cup of “electric” Kool-aid, a room full of interactive multi-media gear to play with and music of the acid test house band, the Grateful Dead.  Eventually, to avoid jail time for two possession charges, he faked his own suicide and ran to Mexico with his family. However, he was arrest by FBI. He eventually returned to Oregon after plea bargain

8 His Life  Made his mark on 20th Century American literature/history in two significant ways:  best selling author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962) and Sometimes a Great Notion (1964)  his drug-fueled activities and promotion of large public Acid Test parties in and around San Francisco in early 1960’s played a foundational role in the countercultural scene that would emerge there later in the decade

9 Writing Cuckoo’s Nest  While working as an aid in the mental ward, he got distracted by the patients and staff and by the administration used to control and “rehabilitate.”  He began to draw and write sketches of the patients  He conceived of the character, Chief Bromden, under the influence of peyote.  He also arranged to receive electroshock therapy in order to accurately describe the treatment in the novel

10 Reading the book  McMurphy is said to argue for a new order of reality, “rejecting the plans for the mental and social hygiene an institution state would impose, or speaking out against the routine absurdity which through bureaucratic administration can come to pass as fact.  The ward’s conformity and repression is a perfect representation of the 1950’s  McMurphy’s words are less important than how he says it. He is like a politician or car salesman promising better things not just for him but for the hospital  The walls with electric current and fog machines, or the nuts-and-bolts technicians pulling spare parts in and out of patients is all metaphorical to the reader (but to Chief they are real)  Chief has a rich visual imagination

11 Setting of Cuckoo’s Nest  Mental institution; late 1950’s  At the end of the 1950’s, “psychiatry at its height of prestige”; mentally ill separated from society for treatment (Faggen, Robert).  Insane and “mad” were separated from society into asylums and silenced  According to sociologist Erving Goffman as quoted in Robert Faggen’s introduction to Cuckoo’s Nest, “Mental patients can find themselves crushed by the weight of a service ideal that eases life for the rest of us” (x).  Some have argued that asylums allowed for social purification

12 Intentions in Writing the book  Kesey did not intend to write a book against mental institutions.  Rather he worked in Menlo Park Veterans Hospital (at first as a volunteer patient for testing of drugs), and while there he became sympathetic to the patients questioning the lines between sanity and insanity.  “He began to consider whether madness really meant the common practice conforming to a mindless system or the attempt to escape from such a system together. As Scalon, a character in Cuckoo’s states, “Hell of a life. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Puts a man in one confounded bind, I’d say” (x).

13 Understanding Meaning of Cuckoo’s  Surface meaning: McMurphy, a highly individualistic, near superman works to overturn Nurse Ratched’s senseless, dehumanizing routines of the ward.  Interpretative meaning: it is a commentary on U.S. society. Kesey was a part of the Beat generation who viewed U.S. hopelessly conformist as to stifle individuality.

14 Interpretative meaning continued  Essentially Kesey turned the ward into a symbol of the tricks of control during postwar American society. This new therapy was a way to force someone’s internal self to conform to someone else's “ideal external environment” (Faggen xi)  Institutional conformity was a big concern at the time (HUAC (House Committee e on Un-American Activities)  Ratched’s ward/society: laws and punishments (both for the inmates and the boys/nurses). McMurphy challenges these rules, thus, upsetting “democratic” procedure (ward policy)  Might also question conformity in relationship to sexual norms/sexuality

15 Significance of Title  Comes from a nursery rhyme  Compares working of civilization to nature  In nature Cuckoo birds lay their eggs in other birds’ nests, one egg per nest. The newly hatched cuckoo throws the other eggs and/or live chicks from the nest. Thus the outcast becomes a tyrant and through disorder holds control over the sensible design of all birds live. It is a lot like Darwin’s survival of the fittest/naturalism.  Harding, the most intellectual character in the book, recognizes that the strong get stronger by devouring the weak. However, if it didn’t work this way then it’d be like the cuckoo nest… “Nature may be cruel but it allows more latitude than the monotony of a system that discards everything that cannot be made to conform to its monolithic dream of success” (Faggen xvii)

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