Ken Kesey American Literature Analysis
Kesey’s critical reputation rests on his two early novels, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Sometimes a Great Notion, both of which depend on contrasting characters and values, with physical and moral strength, personal courage, self-reliance, independence, self-sufficiency, privacy, and nature set in opposition to fear, passivity, timidity, dependence, group effort, committees, unions, and mechanization. Drawing on both serious and popular culture models— Herman Melville, Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Faulkner, and William Shakespeare as well as Marvel comic books, tall tales, street theater, and film—this self-proclaimed parabolist fills his stories with anecdotes of broad significance, often expressed through black humor, hyperbole, powerful imagery, and simultaneous action.
Although Kesey has said that no writer is better than his first book, perhaps no writer is better than a book that comes at a perfect time. One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest certainly came at a time in American history when its messages could be uncritically admired by a hugely varied audience. The explosion of the counterculture in the 1960’s, an explosion that Kesey helped detonate through the Merry Pranksters and Tom Wolfe’s descriptions of them in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968), was a reaction to the staid propriety of the previous decade.
Young readers especially were ready to be told that the “Combine,”...
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