CUP Undergraduate Research


Ken Kesey and the Complete Female

Date of Award

Spring 4-1-2011

Document Type

Restricted Access Thesis


College of Theology, Arts, & Sciences



Degree Name

English, BA

First Advisor

Dr. Richard Hill


Usually seen as a writer not particularly successful in his creation of women characters, Ken Kesey in fact worked hard to depict women successfully. This thesis is the exploration of the development of Kesey’s female characters using, as examples, five women from five different Ken Kesey novels. What I will argue is that while Kesey created no one well-rounded female character (Viv in Sometimes a Great Notion is the closest), if the various characters he created in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Demon Box, Sometimes a Great Notion, The Last Go Round, and Sailor Song, were combined we find that together they make an interesting and full dimensional feminine character. This creation of a full female character is the goal of this thesis, achieved through an analysis of the main women in the novels listed above.

After I have analyzed these women characters, at the end of these musings, I will engage in the beginning of a fictional thought experiment. Someday I will complete what I start here which is an attempt to continue and create the story of what happens to Viv after the events unfold at the end of Kesey’s best novel, Sometimes a Great Notion. The culmination of my analysis of all of the characteristics from the other women to be discussed in this thesis will be used to create a “Viv” that Kesey may have strived to create, but could never quite accomplish. The beginning of my attempt at this will appear separately at the end of this thesis, as an epilogue.

My analysis will reveal that each woman—Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Viv in Sometimes a Great Notion, Grandma Whittier in Demon Box, Louise in The Last Go Round and Alice in Sailor Song—has certain strengths and qualities that make them uniquely effective in their stories. In addition, when seen together, these qualities could create a truly complete character. This character would have aspects that many real women could empathize and identify with.

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