When writing a story, an author uses themes and elements which are related to his life. Many of Kenneth Elton Kesey’s novels including One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest sustain messages which can be interpreted by discovering his life events. Ken Elton Kesey was born 1935 in La Junta, Colorado and lived with his parents Frederick Kesey and Geneva Smith. Ken moved to Springfield, Oregon where he spent his early years hunting, fishing, and swimming. In his teenage years, Ken spent his time wrestling in both high school and college.
In 1956, while attending college at the University of Oregon Kesey fell in love with his high-school sweetheart, Norma Faye Haxby, whom he had met in seventh grade. Ken and Norma then had three children: Jed, Zane, and Shannon. Later, Kesey had another child named Sunshine with a woman named Carolyn Adams. Kesey attended the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism, where he received a degree in speech and communication in 1957. He was awarded a Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship in 1958 to enroll in the creative writing program at Stanford University, which he did the following year.
While at Stanford, he studied under Wallace Stegner and begun his project which would later be known as One flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. In 1959, Kesey volunteered to take part in a CIA-financed study. The project studied the effects of psychoactive drugs such as LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, cocaine, AMT, and DMT, on people. This most likely influenced Kesey to write about a psychiatric environment in his story One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Also inspiring to Kesey’s works were his night shifts at the Menlo Park Veteran’s Hospital. There, Kesey often spent time talking to patients which were under the control of hallucinogenic drugs. Kesey believed that “the patients were not insane rather that society had pushed them out because they did not fit conventional ideas of how people were supposed to act and behave. ” (Cliffsnotes Art. 2) Kesey proves how just because someone may seem different than the rest of the crowd, society dumps them into a ward.
Furthermore, Kesey introduces a normal person (Mcmurphy) into the ward, so he can challenge the authority of the nurses and can inspire the patients to believe they are just like any other human beings and their abilities to live a normal life should not be restrained by a nurse. In 1963, when the novel was published, it became an immediate success. Kesey was not only an author, but a playwright director. Many of his ideas were Shakespearean as well as real life themes which were inputted into his novels.
Some reoccurring themes in Kesey’s novels include the fight for sexual freedom, and rebellion through the introduction of a leader. “Harding shuts off the buffer, and leaves it in the hall and goes and pulls him a chair up alongside Mcmurphy and sits down and lights a cigarette too. ‘Mr. Harding! You return to your scheduled duties! ’ Then Cheswick goes and gets him a chair, and then Billy Bibbit goes, and then Scanlon and then Fredrickson and Sefelt, and then we all put down our mops and brooms and scouring tags and we all go and pull chairs up. You men-Stop this. Stop! ’” (Cuckoo’s Nest 144)
One of the many examples of rebellion through a leader is seen through this passage. This is Kesey’s way of freeing the patients under the conformity of the hospital when Kesey took part in the financed study. Many of Kesey’s famous novels and playwrights include: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Sometimes a Great Notion, Demon Box, Caverns, The Further Inquiry, Sailor Song, Last Go Round, and Twister. Some of Kesey’s most popular genres also include mystery and realistic fiction.
In 1965 Kesey was arrested for possession of marijuana. Interestingly, he moved to Mexico and faked a suicide. When he returned back to the states, he served a five-month sentence in the San Mateo County Jail. After he got out, he bought a farm house in Pleasant Hill, Oregon and settled down with his wife to raise his children. He was going through major complications later in his life at this time as he had surgery on his liver to remove a tumor. He never recovered from the operation and died of difficulties on November 10, 2001, aged 66.