Critical Context

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Last Updated on May 18, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 174

The protagonists of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest and of Ken Kesey’s second novel, Sometimes a Great Notion (1964), belong to the American tradition of the romantic hero, which extends from James Fenimore Cooper’s Natty Bumppo through all the heroes of popular Westerns to the superheroes of contemporary comic books. Kesey’s novels also find a place in the American tradition of iconoclastic individualism extending from Henry David Thoreau through Herman Melville and Mark Twain to the Beat authors of the 1950’s, such as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.

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One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest has been more successful than many other works popular during the counterculture movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s—a success that stems more from its artistic excellence than from its social philosophy. Kesey’s effective use of emblematic scenes (reminiscent of some scenes in the works of Melville), his telling use of allusions, his vividness, his economy, and his thorough integration of detail all combine to make the novel a classic of modern American literature.

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