Ken Kesey, David Ireland and a Portrait of Australian Freedom

Jessica Brooks


David Ireland’s ‘The Unknown Industrial Prisoner’ was an important novel of its day that has been somewhat forgotten in more recent years. It won the Miles Franklin award in 1971 and created some controversy amongst reviewers regarding its unconventional narrative technique, which had little, if any, Australian precedent. It did, however, have an American precedent in the works of the Beat generation. Foregrounding issues of freedom and individualism, Ireland’s novel closely parallels Ken Kesey’s ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ (1962), not only in its themes but also through its use of metaphors and character studies. Like Kesey’s mental hospital, Ireland’s Puroil refinery offers an example in microcosm of society’s ills. Ireland’s obvious use of ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ suggests that he found in Kesey’s work a certain resonance with the Australian experience. Yet the differences between the two novels are more telling. This article explores the possibility that Ireland intentionally wrote an adaptation of Kesey’s novel in order to highlight differences between American and Australian cultural attitudes towards freedom and individualism.

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