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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Introduction

A brief history on Ken Kesey, the novel's author, and an introduction to the novel itself, including its characters, symbols, motifs, and themes.

Peter Eliot

on 30 April 2017

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Transcript of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Introduction

Who is Ken Kesey?

Born in 1935, died in 2001

His time at Menlo was spent interviewing patients...and participating in drug studies.
One of those drugs?
Though it's difficult to tell...

Because Kesey spent so much time in a hospital,
one of the things the novel discusses
is Behaviorism: the idea in psychology that
all behaviors are acquired through conditioning

One of the most famous behaviorists was
Ivan Pavlov, whose experiment with training dogs
is world renowned.
So he did the rational thing:
he co-authored a book about it.
What does one name a book
while on LSD?

Why "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test," of course.
This comic confuses the crap out of me...
Pavlov used classical conditioning
to train his dogs; using a carefully planned
conditioned stimulus
-- a bell -- dogs would
think that food was arriving and would salivate.
Allegory - typically a narrative in prose, verse, or drama that self-consciously presents its meaning through concrete symbols. The significance of a given symbol, however, is determined by the conventions of the allegory as a whole. An allegory has at least two levels of meaning: the literal level of the immediate narrative and the political, historical, philosophical or moral commentary the author intends to be recognized. Thus allegories are generally didactic in focus.
Let’s try this again:
Allegory - An imaginative device used in literature whereby a work takes on a secondary meaning conveyed by symbols and allusions. Allegories are usually meant to teach the reader.
But, since the novel can be understood on more than one
level, you must be wondering what those levels are, right?
(Students looking at Mr. E right now)
On the surface:
R.P. McMurphy becomes a patient
and does his best to overcome & overthrow the tyrannical Nurse Ratched and the senseless and dehumanizing routines of the psych ward
Below the surface
: a commentary on


Issues Discussed
Literary Terms:
Allegory-(see previous definition)
Allusion-a passing reference to historical or fictional characters, places, events
Archetype-an image, plot, detail, or character type that occurs frequently in literature, myth, religion, or folklore and is therefore prone to elicit profound emotions
Colloquialism-a commonly used word or phrase that may be inappropriate for a formal writing
Pathetic Fallacy-when an inanimate object is given life through feelings, senses, etc.
Unreliable Narrator-when the narrator's credibility is compromised
Take 3:
This makes my brain hurt.
He considered himself a prime figure in the antiestablishment movement
After writing two novels that weren't published, he decided to work the graveyard shift at Menlo Park Veteran's Hospital in New Jersey.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

The novel is narrated by Chief Bromden, but our main character is R.P. McMurphy. On the surface, the novel follows McMurphy as he tries to change the ways of the restrictive hospital. However, the novel is an
Remember what we said before about Kesey's role for the
antiestablishment movement?
Throughout the text, Chief Bromden is convinced that all of the patients are victims of The Combine: an actual machine that is meant to churn out perfect humans, and spits out (or kills) the imperfect ones.
Point of View

McMurphy's boxer shorts
The Nurses' station glass

One Flew
Over the
Cuckoo's Nest
by Ken Kesey
The Importance of Freedom
The Power of
Masculinity and Femininity
Chief Bromden
(AKA "Chief Broom")
Chief Bromden
is the narrator of the novel and is the only
character who can "see" the Combine. He suffers from many psychological disorders.
This often makes his narration problematic.
Nurse Ratched
(aka "Big Nurse")
The nurse has been working on this ward for many years. Chief describes her as having a doll face. This isn't a good thing.
R.P. McMurphy
McMurphy (called "Mack" by the other patients)
is transferred to the ward from jail. He's the ward's resident rebel.
Full transcript