Introduction to One Flew Over the Cuckoo*s Nest


Stereotype vs. Reality


I. 1960’s Counter Culture

(AKA Hippies)

American Culture Counter Culture Response

Post WWII “Baby Boom”

Vietnam War

Influx of Disillusioned

Affluent Adolescents


Rise of TV and FM Radio

Assassination of JFK

Persistence of Racism and


Challenging of censorship; innovation in art

Paranoia and Skepticism about Government

Civil Rights Activism and


II. Ken Kesey




Date rage significance? He was alive for:






Nuclear Bomb and end of WWII (1945)

Vietnam War (1955-1975)

Assassination of Kennedy (1963)

Assassination of Martin Luther King (1968) e.

First Man on Moon (1969)

Tumultuous period in American history greatly influenced his art

Imagine Living Through Events We Only

Read About In History Books!

II. Ken Kesey (cont.)

B. Ken Kesey was profoundly affected by the rise of hallucinogenic drugs.

1. 1959, participates in government-sponsored experiments with people on LSD

2. Experiments took place in a Veteran’s hospital, with often shell-shocked and mentally unstable participants

3. Experiences in this project go on to inspire composition of

Cuckoo’s Nest

II. Ken Kesey (cont.)

C. Ken Kesey hosted “acid tests” for friends with “Merry


1. Traveling parties that advocated use of LSD in San Fran area; eventually became common part of hippie scene

2. Kesey believed LSD taught men to think in new ways

Catholic School Disclaimer:

LSD is a highly dangerous narcotic that can cause permanent psychosis from even a single use. Mental instability, schizophrenia, and detachment from reality are common effects!

II. Ken Kesey (concluded)

D. Liberal, anti-government, pacifist to the end

E. Continued to experiment with LSD and journey with “Merry

Pranksters” even into his 60’s.

F. Profoundly affected by 9/11, and blamed U.S. militaristic conservative government

G. Died from complications related to a liver tumor

III. Origins of Cuckoo’s Nest


Kesey’s Goal: present social evils symbolically as mental institution and its staff



Kesey aimed to attack the “uniform, unimaginative, overly conditioned mentality of corporate America.”

Kesey hoped to criticize societal pressures that hinder individuality

III. Origins of Cuckoo’s Nest

D. Title comes from a nursery rhyme Chief Bromden recalls

Three geese in a flock

One flew East 

One flew West 

And one flew over the cuckoo's nest

Cuckoo’s Nest = asylum (which symbolizes society)

To “Fly Over” = escape/depart/differ from

IV. Cuckoo’s Nest in Canon of

American Literature


Widely considered a classic, Cuckoo’s Nest is, like most literature, a response to the literature that came before it.

Think about the major works we have read so far this year:

Huckleberry Finn

America is like a river : it is alive, constantly changing.

The Great Gatsby

America is like a valley of ashes : dead, lifeless, empty

The Crucible

America is like a crucible : a hot, painful test of integrity and honesty

Cuckoo’s Nest

America is like an insane asylum ; society traps, restricts, and condemns those who are different or unique.


Farm machine: removes grains from the chaff of wheat and other crops.

Harvests what it wants, throws away what doesn’t belong as waste.

Why do you think this device is the primary symbol of a Modernist/Postmodernist work?

V. Elements of


A. Disjointed, dreamlike writing style is characteristic of postmodern literature

B. McMurphy and Bromden modernist heroes who rebel against a symbolic society

C. Patients are stripped of their individuality