One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest

A WebQuest for English 12R

Designed by Roberta Jamin

rjamin [at]



The overall theme of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is that of a man's right to be an individual versus society's need to make him conform.  This theme is reflective of the social climate of the 1960's.  Today, the attitudes towards women and minorities reflected by Kesey might be offensive.  However, it is important to remember that in 1962 when this story was written, the civil rights movement and the women's movement were in their infancy.  Other themes are also in evidence throughout the novel:  What is sanity?  How does authority cripple people?  Is the natural man better off free?  Can the simple force of one's personality overcome the repression of society?

The 1960's was a decade of social rebellion including the Civil Rights Movement, the beginnings of the women's movement, and the protest against the Vietnam war.  Many people sought their individuality through free love, drug experimentation, or through organized rebellions such as sit-ins.

There are several objectives you need to achieve during this quest.  They are:


  1. Research the 1950s and 60s and complete the timeline chart provided
  2. Write a biographical sketch of Ken Kesey
  3. Compare authors of the same time period using the chart supplied
  4. Understand the world of mental health, its illnesses, and its treatments and research one specific mental disorder, its causes, symptoms and treatments



Using the following sites to assist you, research the American culture of the 1950s and 60s.  Be able to draw a timeline of significant events.  Understand the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower and its influence on this time in history.  What started the Civil Rights Movement and the Women's Movement for Equality?  What progress was made in these movements at this time - what encouraged them forward?  what hindered their progress?  What impact did the Vietnam War have on the culture of the times?  Complete the timeline packet for this task.


Ken Kesey wrote in abundance and in every possible form, including children's stories.  He also wrote in collaboration with other authors, edited manuscripts, and added his talents to a number of anthologies.  Kesey was an interesting man, even apart from the fact that he was a contributor to an era that questioned authority and railed against it with actions as well as words.  He was idolized years ago, and many revere him today as a hero of literature and lifestyle.  Using the following sites write a short biographical sketch of Ken Kesey, including the titles of his most important books.


Many other authors of the same time period in which Ken Kesey was active wrote of subjects affecting them and society in general.  While some writers may have been influenced by the popular beliefs as held by Kesey, they chose to emphasize other topics through their works.  Maya Angelou, for example, was born a few years before Kesey, but her work deals with other societal issues and was written in  completely different style than Kesey's.

On the author chart that you have been given, research each author listed and note the main category or categories in which he or she belongs.  Give each author's date of birth (and death, if applicable) and provide two titles by each.  Include the dates the books were published.  Once your chart is complete, write a paragraph describing the key themes one of these authors addresses.

Some of the above links as well as these might help with this task.


Research the history of mental hospitals in America in the 1950s and today.  Do they still use Electro Shock Therapy (ECT), lobotomies, and the Therapeutic Community as ways to treat the mentally ill?  If not, what therapies are used instead?  Find definitions for psychopath, combine, matriarchy, oppression, capitalism, epilepsy, Electro Shock Therapy, and lobotomy.  Then research a mental disorder and its causes, symptoms, and treatments.  Place your research on the chart provided. 

The following sites might help in your investigation:


Below you will find a Rubric for this assignment.  This Rubric will be used to grade your final project and should be used by you to guide your work.  If you have any questions feel free to ask. 




Needs Improvement

Reading Comprehension Students differentiate between literal and figurative meanings

Students demonstrate understanding of the whole work

Students connect their understanding of the text to their place in history

Students usually differentiate between literal and figurative meanings

Students may generate, validate, and/or reflect on their ideas about the texts

Students accept the texts without exploring the multiple possibilities of meaning.

Students show little sensitivity to nuances and complexities of texts

Sometimes students connect to personal experience but on superficial level

Students criticisms and assessments are simplistic

Students do not demonstrate even a rudimentary understanding of the works and how they relate to text ideas.

Any connections to t heir own experiences are isolated

Students engage in reading simply to decode words rather than for coherent meaning.

Drawing conclusions from text Draws logical and relevant conclusions and uses supporting details from the text Draws a conclusion and uses a few supporting details from the text Fails to draw a conclusion, or conclusion is unsupported, illogical, or irrelevant No attempt made to respond
Research Tasks Establishes and maintains a clear purpose and focus throughout all aspects

Supporting details are rich, interesting and full

Purpose and focus are clearly established

Details are fully developed and provide ideas/information in depth

Attempts to establish a purpose but focus is not fully clear

Details are thinly developed and lack elaboration

Purpose and focus are not apparent

Not developed

Details are minimal, inappropriate, random or nonexistent

Presentation Sentence variety enhances style

Virtually no errors in structure and usage

Very few errors or no mechanical errors

Few or no errors present

Moderately successful in using more sophisticated sentence structure

Errors or patters of errors are present but they do not interfere with communication.

Attempts are  made to use sophisticated sentence structure

Errors interfere with understanding

Lack of sentence sense

Too brief to evaluate


Having completed your quest you should have a better understanding of the 1950s and 60s in America.  You should also be aware of who Ken Kesey was, the generation he was part of, and how he compared to other members of the art community producing during the same time period.  Finally, you should have an awareness of the mental health community that existed during this time period and the medical advancements and improvements that have been made.


This WebQuest was designed with the following NYS Learning Standards in mind.