Sick Jokes: Humor as an Alternative Treatment for Mental Illness in Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Student First Name: 
Student Last Name: 
Student Picture: 
Jessica Chace
Project Picture: 
Chace Poster
Expected Year of Graduation: 
Student Team Members: 
Kim Moreland, Professor of English
Other Team Members: 
Fun Fact About Yourself: 
In my time at GW, I was the Editor-in-Chief of the 2013 Cherry Tree Yearbook, a member of Wooden Teeth Literary Magazine, and an intern at the American Writers Museum Foundation.
Project Abstract: 

My primary objectives were to increase my knowledge of mental institutions in the 1950s and 60s, understand how humor functions in Cuckoo's Nest, and explore the efficacy of humor as a treatment for mental illness. To achieve these objectives, I read several books and traveled to the University of Oregon to view the Ken Kesey Papers. My research resulted in many insights into the treatment of mental illness and humor as a therapeutic technique. The thinking of academics like Szasz, who openly denounced Freudian psychotherapy, influenced writers like Kesey, who similarly saw the label of mental illness as a means of control over “deviant” members of society. Kesey's experiences in Menlo Park Veterans Hospital also inspired him to write the novel, and his portrayal of the Combine very much mirrors the "total institution" of the mental hospital. My findings led me to conclude that Kesey magnifies and mocks the procedures and psychotherapy used to treat the patients in order to reject the pervasive medical treatments of the day and introduce humor as an alternative treatment for mental illness.