One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest | Study Guide

Ken Kesey

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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest | 10 Things You Didn't Know

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Published in 1962, Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest has been called an "antiauthoritarian fable" by writer Larry McMurtry and a "metaphor of repressive America" by critic Christopher Lehmann-Haupt. Kesey's work bridged the gap between the Beat Generation and the rise of the counterculture, spurring people to question the power of institutions and the definitions of sanity versus madness.

While it is impossible to measure the book's effect on the Civil Rights Movement and the later antiwar movement, many believe it helped fuel these struggles. The 1975 film adaptation, which won five Academy Awards, brought the story's characters to life for millions of people and is considered a classic in American cinema.

1. Kesey hallucinated one of the novel's main characters during a drug trip.

While writing a different novel, Kesey worked in the psychiatric ward of a hospital as a means to earn extra income. While there, he spent a night high on peyote, a hallucinogenic drug, and had a vision of what writer Tom Wolfe described as a "full-blown Indian—Chief Broom—the solution, the whole mothering key, to the novel."

2. A teacher who assigned the novel to his class was fired.

In 1978 Idaho teacher John Fogarty was fired from his job for having his class read One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. The book has been banned or challenged in many schools, with objections including that the book "glorifies criminal activity, has a tendency to corrupt juveniles, and contains descriptions of ... bizarre violence."

3. Kesey hated producers' ideas for a film adaptation.

The producers of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest rejected Kesey's own screenplay. He was bitter about the decision, disagreeing with the casting choices and the producers' decision not to have Chief Bromden narrate the story (as he did in the book). Kesey claimed that he never saw the finished film, though it won many awards.

4. Kesey's grandmother used to chant a nursery rhyme that inspired the title.

Narrator Chief Bromden recalls his mother chanting the rhyme to him when he was a child. There are several versions of it. According to an unpublished interview, Kesey's own grandmother chanted one version to him:

William, William trimble toes, he's a good fisherman, catch his hands put 'em in the pans, some lay eggs some not, wire, briar, limber lock three geese in the flock, a one flew east, a one flew west, a one flew over the cuckoo's nest; o-u-t spells out you dirty dish rag you go out!

5. Real mental patients were involved in the film version of the book.

Part of the film version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) was filmed at the Oregon State Mental Hospital. The head of the hospital, Dr. Dean Brooks, played Dr. Spivey in the film, and patients did technical work and performed as extras. Dr. Brooks stated, "I just hope people realize that this is an allegory," adding, "Why, except for the one that was done two years ago, we haven't had a lobotomy in this hospital since 1958."

6. During filming, a real patient was seriously injured.

When filmmakers filmed a scene from the movie in the Oregon State Mental Hospital, a worker ran a cable through a window, unlatching the screen. A patient leapt through the window, falling three floors and breaking his shoulder. Oregon newspapers wrote, "One Flew Out of the Cuckoo's Nest." It was the only scene filmed in the hospital.

7. Time magazine lauded the novel as one of the best in the English language.

Time magazine included One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest on their list of "100 Best English-Language Novels from 1923 to 2005," calling it "an allegory of individualism and a heart-tearing psychological
drama."

8. Nurse Ratched was a recurring character on the TV show Once Upon a Time.

Starting in 2011, ABC's show Once Upon a Time borrowed figures from fairy tales and literature and populated an enchanted town with them. The character of Nurse Ratched first appeared in the 12th episode of the first season; she presided over a mental hospital in which the character of Belle, from "Beauty and the Beast," was held.

9. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was remade as a musical film in India.

Titled Thalavattam, the Indian version of the film was released in 1986 and was a huge hit. It introduces a romantic element to the story and uses the main character's shock treatments as the inspiration for psychedelic musical numbers.

10. Kesey's experiments with hallucinogens helped inspire the hippie aesthetic.

Kesey took part in a government drug experiment in which he tried LSD and mescaline, among other drugs. With proceeds from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Kesey purchased property and brought his friends—known as the Merry Pranksters—to live and take part in what he called Acid Tests, or LSD parties. The group's experiments with drugs expanded throughout the country as the Pranksters drove their Day-Glo-painted bus east. By 1966 Kesey was denouncing LSD, at the height of the psychedelic era.

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