The idea of having the power of taming an unknown, rugged territory has alwaysbeen a significant goal in American society. The early American settlers cameover to this continent to find a better home with the intention to conquer andmake their surroundings fit their needs. In an interview with Ken Kesey, hesaid: What I explore in all my work: wilderness. Settlers on this continent fromthe beginning have been seeking wilderness and its wilderness.
The explorers andpioneers sought that wilderness because they could sense that in Europeeverything had become locked in tight. . . .When we got here there was a senseof possibilities and new direction and it had to do with wilderness. (Faggen 22)In Kesey’s novels, this American feeling of confidence in oneself to dominateand control one’s surroundings is a continuing theme. Kesey is predominatelyknown as an author of the Beatnik generation.
He was very influential as aleader of the psychedelic movement on the West Coast, and drugs played animportant part in his life and often influenced his writing.————————————————————————“What I explore in all my work: wilderness.” -Ken Kesey———————————————————————— Hisfirst published novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, was extremely popular andis often thought of as one of the great books demonstrating the social values ofthe Beatniks. In this novel, the protagonist, R.P. McMurphy, is a con man whofakes mental illness to enter a psychiatric hospital to escape working at astrenuous state correction farm. He goes there with the idea that this will bean easy life and he’ll make a profit.
Miss Ratched, known as the Big Nurse, isthe dictating power on the ward, and the place runs in exact order under hercontrol. The two engage in a continual power struggle. McMurphy encourages thepatients to rebel against her authority for his own self-interest as well as forthe theirs. He makes it his personal goal to overthrow her rule and useswhatever means he can. He has the intention of taking control of the ward andconquering the ruler, and uses the ward meetings to get the other patients tovote against her policies.
Once McMurphy tries to get the daily schedule changedso the World Series would be on during the TV hour. With a great effort, hepersuades the patients to stand up against her and switch the time slots the waythey want, but their immense fear of her makes it difficult for McMurphy to takecontrol. Using his con man skills to weaken her rule, McMurphy brings gamblingto the ward, betting for the patients money and cigarettes.
He is able to takemuch of their money fairly, without the Big Nurse being able to stop him. Hebets that he will be able to make her lose her cool within a week. He tells thepatients, “. .
.a bee in her butt, a burr in her bloomers. Get her goal.Bug her till she comes apart at those neat little seams, and shows, just onetime, she ain’t so unbeatable as you think. On week.
I’ll let you be the judgewhether I win or not.” ( 72) He comes very close by upsetting her, andmaking a fool of her. He plays games such as innocently offering to help andthem getting her all upset and flustered. He does lose this bet but he proveshis point that he is clever enough to get to her. This is an important step inwinning the patients’ confidence in McMurphy and their support of him.
The BigNurse shows society’s inhumanity in dealing with the insane by locking them upout of its sight. Kesey has McMurphy set out on the goal to conquer the villainand take control for himself. For him, the end justifies the means, even if hesacrifices himself for the cause. He sees the ward as a challenging wildernessthat he can tame in order to accommodate it to his own needs.————————————————————————“…a bee in her butt, a burr in her bloomers.
” -McMurphy in One FlewOver the Cuckoos Nest———————————————————————— Kesey’ssecond novel is Sometimes A Great Notion. It is a difficult novel to comprehendbecause it quickly shifts from first to third person. The book “blends pastand present”(Granville 277), switching story lines by using italics,capitals, and parentheses. Much of it is written in stream of consciousness.
Thenovel takes place on the Oregon coast, where the Stampers are a large loggingfamily who own their business. They have a rugged, strenuous life with fewmodern conveniences. Hank Stamper runs most of the business with Joe BenStamper, and together they work excruciatingly hard to pull through theirstruggles. They are the model example of Americans surviving the elements in anattempt to conquer the wilderness. The Stampers isolate themselves from the restof the town; only family members can work for the company.
Theirs is acompetitive company, and Hank prides himself on being the most successful ofthem all. He makes a deal with Wokonda Company to ship a huge order of lumber.The town is unaware of it until the Stampers have almost completed the deal.
This contract puts the rest of the loggers, consisting of most of the town, outof business. Much of the book is about how the townspeople try to persuade Hankto cut off the deal. In one argument, the towns leader says, “…I know youcan’t possibly do such a thing, Hank, not and still call yourself a Christian.There is an entire town off there depending on you.
An en-tire town, your hometown, the fellows you grew up with, played ball with… an’ their wives an’kids! “(360).
He refuses to back down and the town cuts off ties with him.He suffers severe losses trying to complete the contract with only a few men,even losing his closest family member, Joe Ben, in the struggle. Learning thathe, alone, cannot pull off such a large operation, he is ultimatly unsuccessful.
Torrential rain causes constant flooding of the river, and makes his lifefrustrating and challenging. Throughout the book, the river is always Hank’spotential enemy. He is constantly checking the bank to see how much the waterhad risen. “…Hank was worried that the boats might be swept loose fromtheir moorings, as they had been last year,..
.Before going to bed, he put onrubber boots over his pajamas and pulled on a poncho and went out with a lanternto check….Hank noted the water’s height on the marker at the dock–black waterswirling at the number five; five feet, then, above the normal high tidemark…
” (105-106) Hank is constantly haunted by paranoia about the riverrising and destroying his belongings. This is his ongoing conflict againstnature, his attempt to confine and control the river. Another of Kesey’s booksKesey’s Garage Sale is a group project by him and other authors. This bookportrays Kesey’s ideas of the 1960’s counterculture movement and a desire for abroadened consciousness. It is not a very popular work, and “most reviewerssaw the book as a thrown together combination of recycled spare parts designedto make money” (Tanner 104). Many of the characters in the work are basedon Kesey and his life experiences. The longest piece, a screenplay, “Overthe Border,” is an exaggerated version of his flight to Mexico to escapeprosecution for his second drug arrest. The main character, Devlin Deboree, ismodeled after Kesey, who is joined by a group called Animal Friends, modeled onKesey’s followers, the Merry Pranksters.
They both lead their groups intofrequent experiments toward discovering new dimensions of consciousness. Neversatisfied staying the same, Deboree and his Friends must constantly try newpaths and they’re confident in finding what they are searching for. Deboreemakes this journey with the confidence in being strong and becoming successful.He goes into Mexico to live a better life, using his surroundings to accommodatehis needs. In the hope of being free from the legal system, he flees to anothercountry just as the first immigrants to America were seeking freedom fromreligious prosecution and a better life. In this screenplay, Kesey evaluates hisleadership. It “is fascinating and informative document of Kesey’s searchfor new awareness and transcendental experience” (Tanner 111). In Kesey’scollection, the realization of the revolution of consciousness has gone sour, asit was hindered by too idealistic motives and by the “.
..corroding impulsesto power and vengeance.
..” (Tanner 112). Tom Wolfe’s documentary on KenKesey and his group of Merry Pranksters, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test isabout Kesey’s real life and how his social life affected his writing.
Hedescribes Kesey’s avid use of LSD and marijuana. Surrounded by hisPranksters,with drugs being used all around him, Kesey is a leader of thepsychedelic revolution in California. The drugs do have a marked affect on hiswriting, and he has often said he was high while writing parts of his novels.Drugs have also distracted him from his writing, and there had always been aconflict between the two; eventually he stopped writing and remained active as adrug user. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test reveals the life Kesey lived, asWolfe writes about Kesey and his group taking a trip across the United States toNew York City in a bus painted exotically with day-glo colors. Being the firstBeats to make such a statement to the nation, they are confident in entering theuncharted adventure to make new discoveries about themselves.
As Wolfe wrote ofthe trip, “Kesey was already talking about how writing was an old-fashionedand artificial form…”(91). The idea of the journey was to further expandtheir consciousness by making a journey to bring their revolution to New York.They were confident in g successfully spreading their ideas. This trip had amajor affect in making the transition from the Beatnik generation to thehippies.
After they traveled across the country in the outlandish bus, othersimilar vehicles became popular. Tom Wolfe illustrates the great influencesKesey had on the nation and the promotion of psychedelics. Kesey persists in hisown life to take on new challenges, confident in his ability to change things tothe way that suits him. Ken Kesey’s works all relate to the early American idealof being able to come to a completely new place and take control. Taming thewild and rugged environment and making it adjust to one’s desires was animportant part in his characters’ lives.
In Cuckoo’s Nest McMurphy could end theBig Nurse’s control and live his own way. Like McMurphy, In Great Notion, Hankand Joe Ben do tame the wilderness but pay a severe price for it. In GarageSale, Kesey portrays his own journey to lead the nation to new psychedelicstages of consciousness. In Acid Test, Kesey’s road trip across the UnitedStates shows his determination and ability to lead people to new phases inhistory and his confidence in achieving his goal. He says: It’s the same oldwilderness, just no longer up on that hill or around that bend, or in thatgully. It’s because there are no more hills and gullies that hollow is there,and you’ve got to explore the hollow with faith.
If you don’t have faith thatthere is something down there, pretty soon when you’re in the hollow, you beginto get scared and start shaking….
Real warriors like William Burroughs orLeonard Cohen or Wallace Stevens examine the hollow as well as anybody; they getin there, look far into the dark, and yet come out with poetry. (qtd. in Faggen24) Ken Kesey continues to illustrate the American ideal of conquering newterritory and transforming it into the way that suits them best. He shows howimportant determination to take the dominating role affects Americans lives. Heis an author of the Beatnik generation and throughout his lifetime madesignificant social contributions. He led the country from Beats to Hippies withhis influence through psychedelic drugs.World History