Strength in Adversity

Human strength arises in the face of adversity, and Kesey’s life was full of just that. Adversity shows what an individual is capable of managing, and how far they can be pushed without breaking; strength builds off of this. With a son facing tragic death when he was forty-nine, operating under the effects of LSD, serving in the U.S. Army, and working at an unpleasant psychiatric ward, Kesey has experienced unideal circumstances and has found his strength from it. These events, however affront, led to the strength Kesey expresses in both “What a World” and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.Human strength arises in the face of adversity, and Kesey’s life was full of just that. Adversity shows what an individual is capable of managing, and how far they can be pushed without breaking; strength builds off of this. With a son facing tragic death when he was forty-nine, operating under the effects of LSD, serving in the U.S. Army, and working at an unpleasant psychiatric ward, Kesey has experienced unideal circumstances and has found his strength from it. These events, however affront, led to the strength Kesey expresses in both “What a World” and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. After Kesey’s time in the Army, he signed himself up to work as an attending in a psychiatric ward. During this time, these wards were also known as asylums for the insane, and they were highly abusive. 

To go into the business and witness the obvious toxicity of the institute, forced him to build the courage to survive through it. Later in life, Kesey wished to expose the situation, and wrote on his experiences in the ward. He gained a well-known novel from it titled, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The novel addresses how the ward was run and by what kinds of people. He could not believe these leaders could have the audacity to enforce techniques such as the “Shock Shop,” a form of electroshock therapy, to rearrange the mind of a patient to make them more socially apt (Kesey 9). He had to sit through years of working with vicious people who thought they were making advancements in society, and he could not do anything about it. This ability to forbear his emotions had to take great stability, otherwise he risked being admitted himself. Throughout his life, Kesey had to be able to organize his emotions in a way that was appropriate for the situation he was in at the time, which took mental sturdiness. At the ward, it was crucial for him to remain stoic, however in a more personal aspect of his life, he had the ability to let himself be strong enough to be himself, not someone everyone might have known him to be.

Some argue that a person’s strength is realized when they are willing enough to become vulnerable to accessing help from others. After the death of Kesey’s son, Jed, Kesey recognizes that he cannot bear the pain of loss alone and asks of his closest friends to, “...indulge me a little; I am but hurt” (Kesey). As a war veteran especially, Kesey was always known to be a strong man. Him reaching out for help shows sometimes the strongest people are the ones, not grinning and bearing through pain alone, but rather letting themselves become accessible to others. In his letter, Kesey also explains that he recognized Jed’s suffering and found the strength to let his son go. After the crash, Jed had been diagnosed with brain death, and the nurse would tell Kesey that his son was as good as dead. Kesey would not pull the plug, and insisted that Jed was fighting with every fiber of strength he had left to be with them, even if only for a few moments longer. After what seemed like an eternity, Jed fought his way back to consciousness, but only to explain to his desperate father, "I don't think I can do 'er this time, Dad. I'm sorry, I truly am..." (Kesey). 

It was in that moment that Kesey, with the support of his family, mustered up the will power to assure Jed with the words, “It's okay, ol' Jedderdink...Go on ahead. We'll catch you later down the line” and alas, his beautiful son fell silent. Like any father would be of a son like Jed, Kesey felt an exuberant amount of pride for his son and loved him as he loved his wife and his other three children. Working up the strength to let a child go must have showed him how much mental strength he truly harnessed. Although Kesey struggled through periods of his life, they ultimately taught him the hidden strength he furnished. The letter, “What a World” and the novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest exposed this strength as he recalled arduous events in his life: working at a psychiatric ward and witnessing the death of his youngest son, Jed. Some people are not interested in fighting through the adversity in life, and they give up. Others, such as Kesey himself, are willing to fight through these hardships to find not only survival, but also, renowned strength on the other side.