One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

A Webquest for 12th Grade Literature and Composition

Designed by
Dana Huff
dana at huffenglish dot com

The Scream


Ken Kesey's novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest exposed the public to the inner workings of mental health institutions and was the result of his experiences working as an orderly at a mental health facility in Menlo Park, California. Through the narration of schizophrenic patient Chief Bromden, the reader learns of Nurse Ratched's abuses of power and use of barbaric practices such as shock therapy and lobotomies to maintain control and order.

You are a journalist working for a weekly news magazine who has been asked by your editor to write an update to Ken Kesey's exposé of the mental health industry. You must research the history of mental health care in the U.S. and other western countries and determine what kind of progress has been made since the death of Randle P. McMurphy in the late 1950's in an Oregon mental health facility.

The Task

You must go undercover as a mental patient, recording your thoughts and experiences in a journal.

Using your journal reflections as a guide, you will write an article comparing mental health care in the late 1950's to that of today, recommending courses of action for improvements that still need to be made.

The Process

Cuckoo Nest

  1. After you have finished Ken Kesey's expose, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, explore the Mental Health History Timeline, especially noting changes that occurred in the 50 years since McMurphy's death.
  2. Explore the history of one particular hospital through a study of David H. Clark's article, "The Story of a Mental Hospital: Fulbourn, 1858-1983," again, taking particular note of the period between the late 1950's and the present.
  3. Learn about the practice of Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT).
  4. Learn more about the practice of Lobotomies.
  5. Read about the practice of Institutionalization, taking special note of changes and/or progress over time.
  6. Visit the EBSCO database (if you are at home working, don't forget you need the login information available from Mrs. Huff or Ms. McCoy). Click on EBSCOhost Web. Select the following databases:
    • TOPICSearch
    • Health Source
  7. Click "Continue." Type search terms related to your article (i.e. "mental health," "shock therapy," "electroconvulsive therapy," "lobotomy") into the search form. Be sure to select the "Full Text" button. You will have to explore more in the databases to find information, which will require more patience, but you will find a wealth of information if you are a diligent searcher.
  8. Based upon the information you learn, write 8-10 journal entries about experiences a modern patient might expect to have in a mental institution. These may be similar to some of those experienced by McMurphy and the others (for example, group therapy sessions), but should be described in terms of modern sensibilities about mental health care.
  9. Using your journals as a basis, compose an informative article discussing the progress of mental health care, but include areas where you also see the need for improvement. Your article should include a layout with images integrated within the text as a professional news article might have. You may also include pullout quotes in boxes. You can find pictures for your article by searching Creative Commons for images. You can also try the Stock XChange for stock images. Do not use copyrighted images in your work.


Your article will be submitted to your editor for evaluation and published. An exemplary article will thoroughly discuss differences in mental health care in the 1950's compared with that of today using examples of experiences of the characters in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and yourself as an undercover journalist. It will look professional, mimicking the layout of a typical news magazine article. It will cite sources accurately. It will be polished, containing no grammar, mechanical, usage, or proofreading mistakes. It will address the typical audience of a news magazine. A poorer performance might include an article that shows little reflection or research about mental health care. It may look unprofessional (for example, a handwritten essay or a typed essay with no attempt at news magazine formatting. It may cite sources inaccurately or fail to cite sources. Finally, it may have grammatical, usage, mechanical, and/or proofreading errors that would be unacceptable in a news publication.


I hope you have developed a greater understanding of the history of mental health care, as well as learned more about mental health issues in our modern society. You should have discovered that while great progress has been made in caring for those with mental illnesses, we still have much room for improvement. While it is too late for McMurphy to benefit from your findings, perhaps educating others through your article will ensure that abuses like those of Nurse Ratched do not happen in our times.

Credits and References

The painting at the top is The Scream, created by Edvard Munch and is in the public domain.

The image of the Cuckoo Nest sign was created by Neil T. and is used in accordance with the terms of a Creative Commons License.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest: A Webquest for 12th Grade Literature and Composition by Dana Huff is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Last updated March 4, 2010