One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962) combines the personal and professional experiences of Ken Kesey and reflects the culture in which it was written, yet it stands strong on its own merits. Kesey developed the novel while a graduate student in Stanford University’s Creative Writing Program. The novel was partly inspired by Kesey’s part-time job as an orderly in the Palo Alto Menlo Park Veterans’ Hospital. Kesey also had begun participating in experiments involving LSD and other substances for Stanford’s Psychology Department. Speaking to patients under the influence of LSD, Kesey began to perceive that society had turned functional people insane instead of allowing them to find their way back to functioning in society. Kesey’s use of LSD also prompted him to have hallucinations while working as an orderly. Kesey often imagined seeing a large Indian mopping the floors of the hospital, prompting him to later add the character of Chief Bromden as the novel’s narrator.
Kesey published One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to great critical and commercial success. Upon publication, the novel had a tremendous effect on baby boomers just beginning to awaken to stirrings of rebellion, for it mirrored and stirred up their new challenges to authority. Kesey also found himself financially relieved by the success of the novel, which allowed him to move his family to a large estate in La Honda, California, which became the site of his wildest days as a bohemian, partying with the likes of the Hells Angels, Allen Ginsberg, and San Francisco’s hippest cultural figures.
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