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Monday 5/3:

Drew Schwiethale - Historicist
Elly Fryberger

Hour 3
Cuckoo’s Nest Leader Paper

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is a novel written by Ken Kesey. It is set in an Oregon asylum, and serves as a study of the institutional process and the human mind. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was a direct product of Kesey's time working the graveyard shift as an orderly at a mental health facility in Menlo Park, California. Not only did he speak to the patients and witness the workings of the institution, he took psychoactive drugs (Peyote and LSD) as part of Project MKULTRA. From this, he became sympathetic toward the patients. Kesey claimed he wrote the first three pages of the novel after ingesting eight peyote plants, and that these pages remained almost completely unchanged through all book rewrites.

New Historicists aim to understand the work through its historical context and to understand cultural and intellectual history through a piece of literature.


  1. How does the historical time in which One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was written affect the work’s content?
  2. Based on what we know of the values of the time period, does One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest reinforce or contradict these values?
  3. Looking at One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest from our perspective now, what impact does it have on us?
  4. What connections can be made between One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and other works? Such as, Yosemite Sam, mentioned in the article.
5. What do you think the point of McMurphy saying "Buddy" all the time? Gatsby said "Old Sport" many times as well. What is so significant in saying a certain word/s to different people.
6. Why do you think the three black people co-run the hospital. In the early 1900s, African Americans were controlled by white people. These three men are controlled by one white woman.
7. Ken Kesey makes numerous references through the narrator about machines. How does/will this impact this book?
8. White is commonly known as the color of innocence. The three black assistants are always in stiff white suits and they are definitely not innocent. Why are they in this color and how is it signifcant?
9. When McMurphy doesn't want to go back to the farm, do you think there is something other than work at the farm that is making him try to be a pshycopath?




Thursday May 6th
Austin White

Theory: Marxists look at materialism and capitalism, and try to find ways to overthrow that and create a socialist society.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey is set in an asylum for the insane. In this asylum, the patients are studied by their doctors and they are used for experimentation. They are trying to discover how to help the acutes recover, at the cost of the chronics, or those who are permanently confined to the asylum. In the asylum, very much like a prison everyone receives the same supplies. They all get the same clothes, the same food and they all get medicine according to their needs. This is all guaranteed to them, as long as they behave and do their tasks. This is very much like Marxism in that they all get the same things so nobody can be materialistic and have more than the others. This starts to go wrong when McMurphy does things like gambling, unevenly distributing material goods to those who are luckier.

1. How does the ward remind you of a prison?
2. Why does the ward attempt to create a socialist society?
3. Who benefits the most from a socialist society like this?
4. What are some examples of attempts in history at socialism (communism) and how are they similar or different than this one?
5. How does the Big Nurse keep this hospital socialist if theoretically they are allowed to vote (democracy)?
6. What methods are effective in establishing and maintaining this socialist environment?
7. What methods would be useful in overthrowing this socialist environment?
8. What changes would be made to this situation if the nurses were subject to the same treatment as well?
9. Ultimately which system will prevail, democracy or the attempt at socialism?


Capital: The Communist Manifesto and Other Writings. Ed. Max Eastman. The Modern Library, 1932. pxxi-xxvi. Rpt. in Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism. Ed. Janet Mullane. Vol. 17. Detroit: Gale Research, 1988.

The Sociology of Literature: Theoretical Approaches. Ed. Jane Routh and Janet Wolff. Keele, Staffordshire: University of Keele, 1977. p92-108. Rpt. in Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Ed. Janet Witalec. Vol. 134. Detroit: Gale, 2003.

Monday May 10th
Ruth Phillips-Feminist

Feminists focus on “gender issues, roles, representations” as well as femininity and masculinity and how a man or woman is defined in the text.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey is set in an asylum. The men in the facility are experimented upon with electroshock therapy and other things. Nurse Ratched is in charge or the patients at the facility. Gender plays a huge role in how the men act. The fact that the men are being told to do by a woman makes then feel even more powerless and hopeless. Most of the woman in the story are view as evil and are out to get any men that surround them. During the time that the book was written, women wanted more equality and from a feminist perspective the text only shows women that want to use power in a bad way. To these men, Nurse Ratched represents everything in a woman that they hate. The thing they hate the most is her power.

How does the idea of man vs. machine relate to gender?
How is the dog and the oncoming car significant?
How does the idea of nature vs. machine relate to the asylum and the events happening there?
As we read through the book, do you trust Bromden as the narrator and how does this relate to the fog that has lifted completely?



Madalyn Roberg and Lauren Seback
May 12 2010

Warm up
Red is a motif throughout the book, so we bought cupcakes and wrote a word with red frosting on each cupcake. The word was an example form the text, where something was described as red. A “red face” or “red worms” Each person will get a cupcake and discuss how their word and red relates to the book as a whole, and how it adds a deeper meaning to the text, and what it represents. We will discuss this red motif as we eat our cupcakes. We will “theory bounce” as Madalyn likes to say. It is also a late birthday party for Elly!!!!!!!


-1) Previous to this section all of the women were portrayed as cruel, controlling, and treacherous. Especially nurse Ratched is a scheming dictator. However in this section Candy, a prostitute goes fishing with the men and she is nice to them. The idea that the prostitute is the good person, and the nurse is the bad person opposes traditional beliefs, why do you think Kesey juxtaposed these women with their roles in society?

-2) Why is the book from the point of view of the chief instead of having it third person omniscient, or from the POV of McMurphy who the story is about?

-3) When the men were on the boat they began all hysterically laughing, earlier McMurphy "wasn't able to get a real laugh out of anybody." (203) What changed?

-4) McMurphy now knows that nurse Ratched can keep him on the ward longer than his original sentence, why does he continue to act out?

5) The chief has been feigning deaf and dumb for years, yet McMurphy is able to get him to speak, also McMurphy helps the other patients become braver by going fishing. Is McMurphy being set up as a Christ figure that is there to "save" the other patients?

-6) What do you think is the significance of the glass being repeatedly broken?

-7) Do you think Chief is there by choice? Why?

-8) What is the significance of the Acutes verse the Chronics? What does this division represent in the bigger picture of this society?

-9) How does the power of each individual character shift in this section?

Article Summary / Response:

Ken Kesey was born on September 17 1935 in la Junta, Colorado. He loved the outdoors and spent much time in them, especially in his childhood. Kesey grew up in Oregon, and was very athletic, along with being a hard core Baptist. He attended the University of Oregon, and while there he became very interested in magic. While he was still in college, Kesey married his high school sweetheart, and had 3 children. He majored in speech and communications, and was a big-time wrestler. Kesey was involved in the countercultural revolution, and joined the hippie movement. At the Veterans Administration Hospital in Menlo Park, he was paid to do a study where he would take LSD and other drugs in order to find out their effects on people. He then begun to work night shifts at a psychiatric ward, and both this and the drugs had a huge effect on his novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Ken Kesey’s book, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, was greatly influenced by aspects of his life. Fog is often mentioned in the book, along with other occurrences which could have been similar to the effects that the LSD and other drugs produced, and how they altered his mind. Kesey was very tough as he was a huge wrestler, and this is shown in certain characters such as Big Nurse and McMurphy, by their power. Since he worked at a psychiatric ward, many of his experiences there could have been revealed throughout the book, and the ward that he worked at could have very similar to the one he created in the novel. Kesey was involved in the countercultural movement, and exhibited a ‘break form tradition’ in his life. This ‘break from tradition’ is reflected in his novel by how the women and minorities hold the authority over the patients—who are white males—as white males are usually looked at as holding the most power in society.

Works Cited:

"Ken Kesey." Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2007. Literature Resource Center. Web. 12 May 2010.

Tanner, Stephen L. "Ken (Elton) Kesey." American Novelists Since World War II: First Series. Ed. Jeffrey Helterman and Richard Layman. Detroit: Gale Research, 1978. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 2. Literature Resource Center. Web. 12 May 2010.

Article Summary / Response:
Ken Kesey was born in 1935, and One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest was published in 1962. Kesey grew up on a farm in Oregon, and was raised with rural values; he was greatly entertained by comic books. Kesey took part in a government funded study on the effects of LSD, and other similar drugs, and traveled across America with a group advocating the legalization of LSD. Kesey worked as an orderly at a mental hospital. Kesey was influenced by the beat movement which was characterized by drug use, sexuality, and non-conformity. One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest is his most famous work.

One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest was written in the 50s/60s when suburbia was formed, and everyone was conforming, Kesey who was influenced by the beat movement opposed conformity. Kesey writes “like five thousand houses punched out identical by a machine.” (203) The fact that Kesey worked with mentally ill patients also played a role in his writing because it not only gave him the idea, but informed his writing. Kesey had experience with hallucinogens, and the narrator of One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest experiences hallucinations. In the book there is a clear good guy, and a clear villain, this could be because as a child Kesey really enjoyed comic books and that is how they are set up

Works Cited:

Charters, Ann. "Ken Kesey: Overview." Reference Guide to American Literature. Ed. Jim Kamp. 3rd ed. Detroit: St. James Press, 1994. Literature Resource Center. Web. 11 May 2010.

M. Gilbert Porter. "Ken (Elton) Kesey." Twentieth-Century American Western Writers: First Series. Ed. Richard H. Cracroft. Detroit: Gale Group, 1999. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 206. Literature Resource Center. Web. 11 May 2010.

Eric Loucks - 5/13/10
Known symbols: McMurphy's cap, money (or debts), the fog machine, the lights in the ward, the television, the electro-shock table, the rabbits and the wolf, the pills, the stray dog, the hospital, the smell of nature, and wheelchairs.

Opening activity: Discuss the symbols shown throughout the book, and try to come up with as many as possible. Determine a "solid" meaning for each one, and then examine the symbols in correlation with the timing of events in the text, and transition into the discussion using the established meanings of symbols as the main point for analyzation.
Summary Response Attachment: Ken Kesey's writing style was heavily influenced by comic books. He liked who way they were set up with a clear villain and clear hero, so he tried to write his novels the same way. Kesey worked in a mental hospital for a while when he was young, which helped him shape his characters which are based off of patients he cared for. The influence of drugs on the book is significant as well. Kesey claimed later after the publishing of The One Who Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest that the first eight pages were written after consuming eight peyote plants while he was under heavy influence of hallucinogens. Those first eight pages are the only ones he never had to revise or change. Kesey believed, to a certain extent, you had t put yourself in the shoes of the characters to make their traits real, and make their experiences come alive.

Discussion Questions:
1.) How is Big Nurse's carefully managed language symbolic of the asylum?
2.) What are the files inside the nurses' station's significance? Why is it important that they have such old information on the patients?
3.) Why was Mr. Turkle so easily convinced to break so many rules in one night thus lose his job?
4.) What is the symbolic significance of the television in the day room? On or off?
5.) Why was Chief ashamed of trying on McMurphy's hat?
6.) Why is McMurphy compelled to sacrifice himself to save the others?
7.) Did Big Nurse change in any way at the end of the novel? Did her approach to the patients change?
8.) Was William Bibbet's death McMurphy's or Big Nurse's fault?
9.) Is McMurphy really the one in the wheelchair at the end?