Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest: The Anatomy of a Hero

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The Anatomy of a Hero

Ken Kesey, a writer and cultural hero of the psychic frontier, is best known as the author of the widely read novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. His works are set in California and Oregon, two locations representing two facets of Kesey's experience that provide the major tensions in his works. Oregon represents traditional rural family values and self-reliance inherited from Baptist pioneer stock; California is associated with the countercultural revolution in which Kesey played an important role. Therefore, Kesey's name is often associated with the American West Coast and the hippie movement that centered itself there during the 1960s. Though he has since taken a more critical stance in regard to the alternative lifestyle he once championed, Kesey's later works remain haunted by fond references to the uninhibited life he enjoyed as a member of The Merry Pranksters, a group who traveled America in a bus when experimental drug use was at its peak.

His novels, plays, screenplays and essays express the author's intrepid quest for heightened consciousness in which he has explored magic, hypnotism, mind-altering or psychoactive drugs, the occult, Eastern religions, and esoteric philosophies. His works also carry forward the American literary traditions of the Transcendentalists and the Beats as well as the frontier humor and vernacular style established by Mark Twain.

Although first published in 1962, Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest still enjoys a wide readership. Kesey's "hippie" reputation and the book's unusual expression of anti-Establishment themes, ranging from rebellion against conformity to pastoral retreat, would explain its current popular appeal. More importantly, Kesey has shaped his unique cast of characters into a society - close-knit, functioning; a society in which the norm is atypical - a society of disaffiliates. "The mirror then which they hold up...