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American Dominance By Kesey Essay Research Paper

American Dominance By Kesey Essay, Research Paper 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

American Dominance By Kesey Essay, Research Paper

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.

————————————————————————

"What I explore in all my work: wilderness." -Ken Kesey

———————————————————————— His

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.

————————————————————————

"…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 a rugged, strenuous life with few

modern conveniences. Hank Stamper runs most of the business with Joe Ben

Stamper, and together they work excruciatingly hard to pull through their

struggles. They are the model example of Americans surviving the elements in an

attempt to conquer the wilderness. The Stampers isolate themselves from the rest

of the town; only family members can work for the company. Theirs is a

competitive company, and Hank prides himself on being the most successful of

them 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, out

of business. Much of the book is about how the townspeople try to persuade Hank

to cut off the deal. In one argument, the towns leader says, "…I know you

can’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 home

town, 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 that

he, alone, cannot pull off such a large operation, he is ultimatly unsuccessful.

Torrential rain causes constant flooding of the river, and makes his life

frustrating and challenging. Throughout the book, the river is always Hank’s

potential enemy. He is constantly checking the bank to see how much the water

had risen. "…Hank was worried that the boats might be swept loose from

their moorings, as they had been last year,…Before going to bed, he put on

rubber boots over his pajamas and pulled on a poncho and went out with a lantern

to check….Hank noted the water’s height on the marker at the dock–black water

swirling at the number five; five feet, then, above the normal high tide

mark…" (105-106) Hank is constantly haunted by paranoia about the river

rising and destroying his belongings. This is his ongoing conflict against

nature, his attempt to confine and control the river. Another of Kesey’s books

Kesey’s Garage Sale is a group project by him and other authors. This book

portrays Kesey’s ideas of the 1960’s counterculture movement and a desire for a

broadened consciousness. It is not a very popular work, and "most reviewers

saw the book as a thrown together combination of recycled spare parts designed

to make money" (Tanner 104). Many of the characters in the work are based

on Kesey and his life experiences. The longest piece, a screenplay, "Over

the Border," is an exaggerated version of his flight to Mexico to escape

prosecution for his second drug arrest. The main character, Devlin Deboree, is

modeled after Kesey, who is joined by a group called Animal Friends, modeled on

Kesey’s followers, the Merry Pranksters. They both lead their groups into

frequent experiments toward discovering new dimensions of consciousness. Never

satisfied staying the same, Deboree and his Friends must constantly try new

paths and they’re confident in finding what they are searching for. Deboree

makes this journey with the confidence in being strong and becoming successful.

He goes into Mexico to live a better life, using his surroundings to accommodate

his needs. In the hope of being free from the legal system, he flees to another

country just as the first immigrants to America were seeking freedom from

religious prosecution and a better life. In this screenplay, Kesey evaluates his

leadership. It "is fascinating and informative document of Kesey’s search

for new awareness and transcendental experience" (Tanner 111). In Kesey’s

collection, the realization of the revolution of consciousness has gone sour, as

it was hindered by too idealistic motives and by the "…corroding impulses

to power and vengeance…" (Tanner 112). Tom Wolfe’s documentary on Ken

Kesey and his group of Merry Pranksters, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test is

about Kesey’s real life and how his social life affected his writing. He

describes Kesey’s avid use of LSD and marijuana. Surrounded by his

Pranksters,with drugs being used all around him, Kesey is a leader of the

psychedelic revolution in California. The drugs do have a marked affect on his

writing, 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 a

conflict between the two; eventually he stopped writing and remained active as a

drug user. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test reveals the life Kesey lived, as

Wolfe writes about Kesey and his group taking a trip across the United States to

New York City in a bus painted exotically with day-glo colors. Being the first

Beats to make such a statement to the nation, they are confident in entering the

uncharted adventure to make new discoveries about themselves. As Wolfe wrote of

the trip, "Kesey was already talking about how writing was an old-fashioned

and artificial form…"(91). The idea of the journey was to further expand

their consciousness by making a journey to bring their revolution to New York.

They were confident in g successfully spreading their ideas. This trip had a

major affect in making the transition from the Beatnik generation to the

hippies. After they traveled across the country in the outlandish bus, other

similar vehicles became popular. Tom Wolfe illustrates the great influences

Kesey had on the nation and the promotion of psychedelics. Kesey persists in his

own life to take on new challenges, confident in his ability to change things to

the way that suits him. Ken Kesey’s works all relate to the early American ideal

of being able to come to a completely new place and take control. Taming the

wild and rugged environment and making it adjust to one’s desires was an

important part in his characters’ lives. In Cuckoo’s Nest McMurphy could end the

Big Nurse’s control and live his own way. Like McMurphy, In Great Notion, Hank

and Joe Ben do tame the wilderness but pay a severe price for it. In Garage

Sale, Kesey portrays his own journey to lead the nation to new psychedelic

stages of consciousness. In Acid Test, Kesey’s road trip across the United

States shows his determination and ability to lead people to new phases in

history and his confidence in achieving his goal. He says: It’s the same old

wilderness, just no longer up on that hill or around that bend, or in that

gully. 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 that

there is something down there, pretty soon when you’re in the hollow, you begin

to get scared and start shaking…. Real warriors like William Burroughs or

Leonard Cohen or Wallace Stevens examine the hollow as well as anybody; they get

in there, look far into the dark, and yet come out with poetry. (qtd. in Faggen

24) Ken Kesey continues to illustrate the American ideal of conquering new

territory and transforming it into the way that suits them best. He shows how

important determination to take the dominating role affects Americans lives. He

is an author of the Beatnik generation and throughout his lifetime made

significant social contributions. He led the country from Beats to Hippies with

his influence through psychedelic drugs.

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