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The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test | Study Guide

Tom Wolfe

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The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test | Key Figure Analysis


Ken Kesey

A native Oregonian, Ken Kesey moved to California in the late 1950s to attend the creative writing program at Stanford University. Looking for extra cash, he took part in drug tests at a local hospital. That's where he discovered LSD, which he claimed opened doors in the mind that previously had been locked. The publication of Cuckoo put Kesey on the map as both a world-class author and drug enthusiast, and soon local acidheads began flocking to his property. The self-proclaimed "non-navigator" of the Pranksters, he was the group's father figure and most magnetic personality.

Mountain Girl

Carolyn Adams was born into an upper-middle-class family in Poughkeepsie, New York. She left home at 18 and headed to Palo Alto, California, where she met Neal Cassady at a party. He brought her to Kesey's place in La Honda—and she stayed. Described as "one big loud charge of vitality," Mountain Girl hid her loneliness and vulnerability from everyone except Kesey. Unable to stay away from him, she followed him to Mexico when she was eight months pregnant. Their daughter, Sunshine, was born there. Mountain Girl later married Grateful Dead front man Jerry Garcia.

Ken Babbs

Kenneth Babbs and Ken Kesey met as creative-writing students at Stanford University. Babbs left California to fly helicopters in the Vietnam War during the early 1960s, an experience about which he wrote a novel. On his return in 1963, he joined the crew at Kesey's La Honda property. A big guy with a "cosmic laugh" and a quick grin, he became the de facto leader of the Pranksters after Kesey fled to Mexico in 1966. He oversaw the Electric Acid Kool-Aid Test in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, California.

Neal Cassady

Constantly twitching and talking, Neal Cassady helped shape two of the mid-20th century's counterculture movements. He was part of the Beat generation, and his stream-of-consciousness pattern of nonstop speech inspired the structure of On the Road, which documented Cassady and Kerouac's adventures across the United States. Cassady was among the older Pranksters, and his celebrity and solid presence endeared him to the rest. Whether high on LSD, Dexedrine, or other mood enhancers, he could almost always be found in the driver's seat of the Pranksters' psychedelic bus, speeding around tight cliff-bound corners and rarely using the brakes.

Sandy Lehmann-Haupt

Sandy Lehmann-Haupt had a contentious relationship with Kesey and the other Pranksters. He would resent Kesey's authority one minute and crave his approval the next. Tom Wolfe connects Sandy's paranoia about his place in the outer ring of Kesey's circle to his use of hallucinogenic drugs, namely DMT. He took it only once during the bus trip, but the effects lasted for weeks. Sandy recovered in rehab only to return to the Pranksters two more times. He effectively cut all ties to the group by reclaiming their most important piece of audio equipment as his own.

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