One Flew over the Cuckoos Nest Literary Analysis
Ken Kesey was born on September 17th, 1935 in La Junta, Colorado. While he was in a fellowship to Stanford’s Writing Program he worked at a Californian Veterans’ Administration hospital in the psychiatric ward as a night guard (“KnowledgeNotes Study Guide”, par. 1). Kesey’s first published book was One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which was published in 1962. Many of the experiences Kesey endured while working at the hospital were inspirations for the book (“KnowledgeNotes Study Guide”, par. 1). The novel was written in the Post War period and was part of the Beat Movement.
I believe that Kesey wrote this book to show people that patients in psychiatric wards aren’t really sick and crazy; they are just misunderstood outcasts of society. Kesey received his Bachelors of Arts degree from the University of Oregon in 1957. Afterwards, he participated in a fellowship to Stanford University’s Writing Program, while he also worked as a night attendant at a Californian Veterans Hospital in the Psychiatric ward. While at the hospital Kesey volunteered for government sponsored experiments involving psychedelic drugs such as LSD and Methamphetamines.
He soon became addicted to how much more aware he seemed while under the influence of the drugs and began taking them regularly, he even wrote parts of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest while under the influence of peyote (“KnowledgeNotes Study Guide”, par. 2-3). In 1966, Kesey was arrested for possession of marijuana and faked his own suicide by placing his bus on a cliffside road with a note reading “Ocean, Ocean, I’ll beat you in the end”, and fled to Mexico. Unfortunately his facade failed and he was eventually brought back to America and prosecuted and sent to jail for 5 months (“Ken Kesey”, p. ). Kesey’s final work was a poem calling for peace for Rolling Stone magazine after 9/11. Kesey died weeks later from complications following an operation for liver cancer, at the age of 66, in November of 2001 (“KnowledgeNotes Study Guide”, par. 7). One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was published in 1962 and was part of the Post War Period, which is a smaller subcategory of Postmodernism (“Author Page”). The Post War Period consisted of the years immediately following World War II, which showed a return in the popularity of traditional values and romantic idealism (“Post-War Period”, par. 1).
This period involved styles inspired by the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, the rise of folk and rock culture, and the rising amount of disapproval towards the government due to the war in Vietnam. First person perspective is very dominant in pieces form the Post-War Period, as in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The Post-War Period embraces the mundane such as realism, but also involves more experimentation than novels from the Modern Period did. Post-War Period literature is unique because of its gut level honesty and skepticism for all things idyllic (“Post-War Period”, pars. -5). The Sixties were a very important time for America. The entire country was revolting for some reason or another. If it wasn’t the African- Americans or women protesting for equal rights, the students were protesting the war in Vietnam, and the literature from that time represents America’s unrest. Also the Counterculture was at its forte when this book was published. The Counterculture involved extensive drug use and sex, and was a turning point in American culture. The strict and proper ways that were very important in the 1930’s through the 1950’s, were all suddenly unimportant.
People could openly talk about things that were previously shunned upon such as sexual orientation and drug use. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest demonstrated this and was very open about such issues. Ken Kesey was a member of the Beat Generation, considering himself “too young to be a beatnik, and too old to be a hippie” (Elder). The Beat Generation was first formed in the mid-1950’s and showed a strong connection between literature and American culture. The Beat poets got their name because they often felt alienated and “beaten down”. They saw their social rejection as a way to form a deeper understanding to the mundane world.
Beat writers sharply broke that status quo and, in an effort to explore new and different aspects in the world, they were very open with their opinions in politics, sexuality, and spiritually in their writing. In many ways the Beat Generation paved the way for the eccentric ways of the pop culture of the counterculture, and still influences many of the writers today (“The Beat Generation”, pars. 1-2). Kesey used many literary terms in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, including Metaphors, Irony, Dialogue, Protagonists, Point-of-View, and various Conflicts.
Metaphors played a huge part in this novel, as they do in most novels part of Postmodernism. According to Dictionary. com, a Metaphor is a figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance. Many authors use metaphors to portray a hidden message or to give readers more complex ideas to think about. Irony, in Kesey’s case was used in a comical effect throughout the novel. Irony is the contrast between appearance and actuality.
In order to give the reader a more realistic idea of a certain character a writer may include dialogue to show a possible geographic location that the character could be from. In One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest Kesey often uses a southern dialogue or an African American dialogue for many of the characters. Every novel that has a conflict has to have a protagonist, in this case the protagonist is R. P. McMurphy. A Protagonist is the leading character, hero, or heroine of a drama or other literary work, According to Dictionary. com.
The entire story is portrayed from “The Chief’s” point-of-view. A point-of-view is a person, or main characters, opinion on how the events occurred, or how they saw it through their own eyes. Two different types of conflicts were involved in this novel- Person vs. Self, and Person vs. Person. Person vs. Self is how the characters struggled against themselves to become stronger, more confident and independent people. Person vs. Person is how the characters struggled against Nurse Ratched. As I explained previously Kesey worked as a night guard at a Californian Psychiatric Hospital.
Many of the ideas portrayed throughout the novel were inspired by this experience, as well as his experience volunteering for the government conducted experiment involving LSD. Many parts of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest were written while Kesey was under the influence of peyote. Kesey used these experiences to convince readers what he learned from talking to the patients, that the patients of psychiatric hospitals aren’t insane, but that society had pushed them out because they did not fit the conventional ideas of how people were supposed to act and behave (“Ken Kesey”, par. ). In the story McMurphy tried to convince the acute patients that Nurse Ratched was trying to control them and that they should learn to stick up for themselves, “that nurse ain’t some kinda monster chicken, buddy, what she is is a ball-cutter. I’ve seen a thousand of ’em, old and young, men and women. Seen ’em all over the country and in the homes-people who try to make you weak so they can get you to toe the lie, to follow their rules, to live like they want you to. And the best way to do this, to get you to knuckle under, is gettin’ you where it hurts the most” (pg. 8). In this quote McMurphy is trying to convince the patients that Nurse Ratched is a “ball cutter”. According to McMurphy there are two types of women, ball cutters and whores. The power of women is a main theme in the book. This reflects upon the feminist movement that occurred while the book was being written and published in the 1960’s. When McMurphy leads a peaceful protest to close the meeting and watch the World Series (pg. 134), this represents the peaceful protests that took place in the 1960’s during the counterculture and the civil rights movement.
Throughout the entire book McMurphy is urging people to rebel against Nurse Ratched more and more to become more and more independent. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is part of the Post-War Period because of it’s connection to the cultural issues of the 1960’s such as the feminist movement, the counterculture, and the civil rights movement. In the book, Nurse Ratched has 3 black boys that are her aides. Throughout the book they are referred to in derogatory terms and treated as if they are slaves, and are overall disrespected.
Another characteristic of the novel that makes it part of the Post-War Period is that it is mostly written in the first person. Chief Bromden, a paranoid, schizophrenic, half Indian, who pretends to be deaf and mute, tells the entire from his point of view, including his own hallucinations (“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, par 7). “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” (p. 1).
This quote is the opening line in the book and not only shows first person narrative, but a little racism, and the fact that the chief is paranoid. Ken Kesey was a beat writer. Beat writers were very eccentric and sharply broke the status quo (“The Beat Generation”, par. 2). In the book there are many controversial issues that would have not have been allowed in the 1930’s or 1940’s such as, prostitutes, drugs, and open sexuality. Referring to women as “ball cutters” and whores as McMurphy did on page 58, “that nurse ain’t some kinda monster chicken, buddy, what she is is a ball- cutter.
I’ve seen a thousand of ’em, old and young, men and women. Seen ’em all over the country and in the homes-people who try to make you weak so they can get you to toe the lie, to follow tier rules, to live like they want you to. And the best way to do this, to get you to knuckle under, is gettin’ you where it hurts the most” would have been extremely disrespectful. There are many Literary Terms Kesey used in Kesey used in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but he especially used a lot of metaphors. McMurphy was a metaphor for Jesus.
When Chief Bromden and McMurphy were sent to the Disturbed Ward there was an old man that said “I wash my hand of the whole deal” (pg. 262). When Jesus was crucified Pontius Pilate washed his hands in public to show his innocence (“Metaphor Analysis par. 5”). When the men are taken to the “shock shop” McMurphy climbed onto the cross shaped shocked table unaided and after complaining about being anointed with oil, he asked for a thorn crown, which is exactly what happened when Jesus was crucified (“KnowledgeNotes Study Guide”).
Another Metaphor that Kesey used was Machines. He considers society like a giant machine, a combine. He also considers the hospital a machine, when he describes everything that Nurse Ratched does, he does it in terms of machines, when she is yelling at the black boys “she blows up bigger and bigger, big as a tractor, so big I can smell the machinery inside the way you smell a motor pulling too big a load” (pg. 5). He also describes peoples thought processes in terms of machines, “I can see the seams where they’re put together.
And, almost, see the apparatus inside them take the words I just said and try to fir the words in here and there, this place and that, and when they find the words don’t have any place ready-made where they’ll fit, the machinery disposes of the words like they weren’t even spoken” (pg. 201) (“Metaphor Analysis”, par. 1-4). On page 17 there is irony when the reading describes a plaque that is on the wall of the day room, which reads, “Congratulations for getting along with the smallest number of personnel of any ward in the hospital”.
The protagonists of the story is McMurphy because when he is admitted to the ward he is looked at like a savior and he gives the patients the inspiration to rebel and become stronger, and eventually, inspire the Chief to speak and escape from the psych ward. The whole story is told from Chief Bromden’s Point-of-view. “They’re still grinning at each other, but their voices have dropped so low and taut I have to sweep over closer to them with my broom to hear” (pg. 56).
This quote is when Harding and McMurphy are planning how to get to Nurse Ratched and it shows point-of- view because it is in the first person. Dialogue is very important when developing a character. It helps give the character a more realistic vibe. Kesey used a lot of dialogue, especially with McMurphy: “By God Chief! It appears to me you growed ten inches since that fishin’ trip. And lordamighty, look at the size of that foot of yours; big as a flatcar” (pg. 255). Kesey also used dialogue when the little black boys spoke: “Tha’s right, motha, tha’s right” (pg. 0). The final Literary Term that Kesey used is conflict. He used two types of conflicts in his novel, the first being Person vs. Self. Many of the characters struggled to overcome their weaknesses, and become strong and confident members of society. The most obvious character that changed is the Chief. He went from being a paranoid schizophrenic that pretended to be deaf and mute, to being the hero of the book, who saves McMurphy from embarrassment after his lobotomy and escapes the ward. Another conflict was Person vs. Person.
McMurphy’s goal ever since his first day was to overcome the “ball-cutting” harshness of Nurse Ratched. He accomplish so much, from inspiring the rest of the patients to stand up to her, to standing up to her himself. Unfortunately in the end she ended up getting the best of him, although she didn’t completely win, because he started a revolution, and didn’t have as much power as she used to because of the ideas that he put into their heads. Kesey was inspired to write this novel by his experiences as a night guard at a Californian Veterans Hospital in the psychiatric ward.
He believed that many of the people there weren’t really crazy, but that society had pushed them out because they did not fit the conventional ideas of how people were supposed to act and behave, so he wrote this book to share his ideas with the public. Kesey wrote much of his book while under the influence of peyote. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was written during the Post-War Period, and was published in 1962, as part of the Beat Movement (“KnowledgeNotes Study Guide”).
Many important historical events happened in the 60’s that affected the story including the feminist movement, the civil rights movement, and the counterculture. After reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest I agree with Kesey that people in the psychiatric ward aren’t really crazy, they are just misunderstood outcasts of society. Works Cited “Authors Page. ” ProQuest Learning: Literature. 2007. 9 May 2007 <http://proquest. umi. com/login>. “The Beat Generation. ” ProQuest Learning: Literature. ProQuest. 9 May 2007 <http://proquest. umi. com/login>. Ken Kesey. ” Wikipedia. 21 May 2007. 16 May 2007 ;http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Ken_Kesey;. Kesey, Ken. Interview with Robert K. Elder. Salon Archives. 16 May 2007 ;http://archive. salon. com/people/feature/2001/11/16/kesey99/index. html; . “KnowledgeNotes Study Guide – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. ” 2007. ProQuest Learning: Literature. ProQuest. 9 May 2007 ;http://proquest. umi. com/login;. “Metaphor. ” Dictionary. com Unabridged (v 1. 1). Random House, Inc. 20 May. 2007. ;Dictionary. com http://dictionary. reference. com/browse/metaphor;. Metaphor Analysis. ” NovelGuide. 2007. 16 May 2007 <http://www. novelguide. com/OneFlewOver/metaphoranalysis. html>. “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (novel). ” Wikipedia. 16 May 2007. 16 May 2007 <http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/One_Flew_Over_the_Cuckoo%27s_Nest>. “Post-War Period (1945-Present). ” ProQuest Learning: Literature. ProQuest. 9 May 2007 <http://proquest. umi. com/login>. “Protagonist. ” Dictionary. com Unabridged (v 1. 1). Random House, Inc. 20 May. 2007. <Dictionary. com http://dictionary. reference. com/browse/protagonist>.
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