How does One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest reflect the time period in which it was written politically, socially, culturally?Consider politics, social values, and other trends

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Much of the authenticity of the satire of Ken Kesey's novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is founded in his personal experiences as a subject in a scientific study of the effects of LSD and as a volunteer in a mental ward of a veterans' hospital. The narrative that is set in the 1950s reflects the struggle of the individual for freedom in an impossible world that causes alienation and forces conformity.

Already alienated from the Native American community, Bromden becomes further isolated and estranged in the mental ward.  His drug-induced "fog" protects him from what he calls the "Combine," a mechanical force controlled by Nurse Ratched.  This "fog" is a metaphor for the unthinking conformity of those in the 1950s who feared McCarthy and the government in its crusade against Communism.  The power of the "Red Scare" of this era marginalized people or forced them to deny friends and accept arbitrary social values. The character Harding, for instance, represents those that accept arbitrary values. In Chapter 4 he explains to McMurray that he and others in the ward are but "rabbits" and must endure the control because

"It's not the rabbit's place to stick up for his fellow. That would have been foolish."

Indeed, Nurse Ratched resembles such government authoritarian figures whom the Beatniks of the 1950s and the Hippies of the 1960s perceived as a brutally cold force against whom they must rebel through non-conformity--much like that exemplified by McMurry--or escape through the use of drugs that would expand their minds or create the "fog" of Bromden.

 

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