American Dominance By Kesey

The idea of having the power of taming an unknown, rugged territory has always
been a significant goal in American society. The early American settlers came
over to this continent to find a better home with the intention to conquer and
make their surroundings fit their needs. In an interview with Ken Kesey, he
said: What I explore in all my work: wilderness. Settlers on this continent from
the beginning have been seeking wilderness and its wilderness. The explorers and
pioneers sought that wilderness because they could sense that in Europe
everything had become locked in tight. . . .When we got here there was a sense
of 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 dominate
and control one's surroundings is a continuing theme. Kesey is predominately
known as an author of the Beatnik generation. He was very influential as a
leader of the psychedelic movement on the West Coast, and drugs played an
important part in his life and often influenced his writing.
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"What I explore in all my work: wilderness." -Ken Kesey
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first published novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, was extremely popular and
is often thought of as one of the great books demonstrating the social values of
the Beatniks. In this novel, the protagonist, R.P. McMurphy, is a con man who
fakes mental illness to enter a psychiatric hospital to escape working at a
strenuous state correction farm. He goes there with the idea that this will be
an easy life and he'll make a profit. Miss Ratched, known as the Big Nurse, is
the dictating power on the ward, and the place runs in exact order under her
control. The two engage in a continual power struggle. McMurphy encourages the
patients to rebel against her authority for his own self-interest as well as for
the theirs. He makes it his personal goal to overthrow her rule and uses
whatever means he can. He has the intention of taking control of the ward and
conquering the ruler, and uses the ward meetings to get the other patients to
vote against her policies. Once McMurphy tries to get the daily schedule changed
so the World Series would be on during the TV hour. With a great effort, he
persuades the patients to stand up against her and switch the time slots the way
they want, but their immense fear of her makes it difficult for McMurphy to take
control. Using his con man skills to weaken her rule, McMurphy brings gambling
to the ward, betting for the patients money and cigarettes. He is able to take
much of their money fairly, without the Big Nurse being able to stop him. He
bets that he will be able to make her lose her cool within a week. He tells the
patients, ". . .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 one
time, she ain't so unbeatable as you think. On week. I'll let you be the judge
whether I win or not." ( 72) He comes very close by upsetting her, and
making a fool of her. He plays games such as innocently offering to help and
them getting her all upset and flustered. He does lose this bet but he proves
his point that he is clever enough to get to her. This is an important step in
winning the patients' confidence in McMurphy and their support of him. The Big

Nurse shows society's inhumanity in dealing with the insane by locking them up
out of its sight. Kesey has McMurphy set out on the goal to conquer the villain
and take control for himself. For him, the end justifies the means, even if he
sacrifices himself for the cause. He sees the ward as a challenging wilderness
that he can tame in order to accommodate it to his own needs.
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"...a bee in her butt, a burr in her bloomers." -McMurphy in One Flew

Over the Cuckoos Nest
------------------------------------------------------------------------ Kesey's
second novel is Sometimes A Great Notion. It is a difficult novel to comprehend
because it quickly shifts from first to third person. The book "blends past
and present"(Granville 277), switching story lines by using italics,
capitals, and parentheses. Much of it is written in stream of consciousness. The
novel takes place on the Oregon coast, where the Stampers are a large logging
family who own their business. They have