Ken Kesey

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorHigh School, 11th grade April 2001

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In novels, the people who write them usually write about things that they either lived through or seen. Then there are some writer that write novels on thing that fascinate them or on thing that they are fanatic with. Ken Kesey wrote the novel One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, which takes place in a mental facility in Oregon. The novel is about a group of men that are in a mental ward because they don't live the way society wants them to live and there fight against society. Ken Kesey was inspired by a job he had in a mental facility. Kesey wrote the novel because of his interest in drugs and insanity. Kesey book was a success because he experienced some of the staff he wrote about hands on. Kesey in a writer who wrote his novel because he experienced what he is writing about, he is a fanatic about what he is writing about, and because what he is writing about fascinates him.

Ken Elton Kesey was born in La Junta, Colorado, in September 17, 1935.

"When Kesey was a child his family moved to Oregon, which was the setting for both his published novels" (Holland 5). In the 1950's Kesey was a student at the University. In 1956 Kesey got married and in 1957 he received his bachelor's degree in arts. After finishing his bachelor's degree he attend writing programs in Stanford University. While attending Stanford, Kesey got a job as night watch in a psychiatric ward in Veterans Administration Hospital in California. While working in this hospital he "volunteered for a series of government-sponsored experiments involving such psychoactive drugs as LSD-25, psilocybin, and mescaline" ( While working in the mental hospital Kesey started writing his novel One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. The mental hospital was Kesey inspiration to write the novel One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, some of the characters in the novel are based on patients in the mental ward where Kesey worked. Also while working and writing Kesey started taking peyote. While on this drug he would "hold long conversation with patients, .........., in order to gain insight into their particular view of the world" ( Holland 5). To really describe about the way patients were tortured in mental wards Kesey had one of his friends give him a shock treatment. When Kesey was done with his first draft he gave it to Malcolm Cowley, a professor at Stanford to read; the professor said that the novel was "some of the most brilliant scenes I have ever read" ( He also said that Kesey had "passion like I've not seen in you young writers before" (

In 1962 after One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest was published Kesey received a lot of critical attention. The book was seen as bias because the narrator refers to the orderlies as "black boys" and "niggers." The book was also seen as a negative portrait of woman as being castrators. Kesey returned to Oregon to start writing his second novel, Sometimes a Great Notion. He finished this novel in 1964. After 1964 Kesey didn't really write that much. In 1966 Kesey stated "I'd rather be a lightning rod than a seismograph" and that "he was giving up writing to live his life" ( After the unsuccess of his second novel, Kesey bought a farm outside La Honda, California. During this time Kesey and many other people were in a group called "Merry Pranksters," they began a comic book that promoted drug use and started experimenting with the drug LSD. In the sixties Kesey was the center of a growing drug cult. Kesey believed that drugs were a means for making the world better than what it was. Society didn't think the way Kesey and his cult did. Many people protested against drugs, they mainly protested against LSD. Kesey being well known and unliked by the public got him in trouble with the law. Before Kesey could get arrest he fled to Mexico. Kesey than returned to the United States he was not as unliked by the public as much because he was gone and out of sight for a while. On his return Kesey was sent to jail. Upon his release, Kesey now lives a quiet life with his and four kids, They live on their family farm in Oregon. Kesey has recently published a collection of his short stories, articles, essays, and interviews. The book with all of those things is called Ken Kesey's Garage Sale. Kesey is now working on another novel.

Ken Kesey wrote a great book on something he dealt with and seen. He is a writer that would go through great lengths to make his novel accurate. Having a friend do shock treatment on him proves that. Kesey was a product of a man rebelling against society. He did every thing society didn't want a person to do. He was a drug addict, he support drug users, he started a drug cult, and when he was supposed to go to jail he fled.

Works Cited World Book Encyclopedia. Illinois: World Book, Inc. 1998.

Thomas, Holland. Cliffs Notes on One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. Nebraska: Cliffs Notes, Inc. 2000.