Chief Bromden’s background has had a profound impact on his character. Society never treated him with the respect he deserved, and not being able to face up to it, he was forced into hiding out in a mental institution. The neglect from society throughout his life turned the Chief into a paranoid, insecure and reserved man.
The reader gets a glimpse of Chief Bromden’s paranoia in the beginning of the novel. His paranoia mostly takes the form of hallucinations, he believes there are hidden machines in the hospital that physically and psychologically control the patients. “I creep along the wall quiet as dust in my canvas shoes, but they got special sensitive equipment detects my fear and they all look up, all three at once, eyes glittering out of the black faces,” this is a quote taken from pg.9, and it reveals the Chief’s way of looking at thing.
Chief’s perspective reveals that the black boys become aware of his presence because of the special sensitive equipment that senses fear, but it may just be the way Chief is creeping along wall that makes the black boys stare at him the way they do. Chief’s paranoia is caused by his unwillingness to conform to society. He searches for reasons that he can apply to his everyday situations to help him cope with society.
“One of these days I’ll quit straining and let myself go completely, lose myself in the fog the way some of the other Chronics have.” This quote, which can be found on pg.42, reveals another one of Chief’s hallucinations. The fog represents Chief’s medicated state and his need to hide from reality. When Chief does not want to deal with his surroundings he looses himself in the drugs and blames the Big Nurse for fogging up the place. The paranoia and hallucinations are caused because the Chief is unhappy with society and wants a form of escape, but as the story progresses and his mood changes to a more blissful tone the hallucination become more rare.
Society’s lack of acknowledgment towards Chief Bromden has transformed him into a quite and reserved individual. “But I remembered one thing: it wasn’t me that started acting deaf; it was people that first started acting like I was too Dumb to hear or see or say anything at all.” This quote from pg.178 confirms that Chief is quite and reserved because of the impact society has had on him. From pages 178-182 Chief talks of a time when he was ten years old, and three government officials came to see his father who was away at the time. Chief tries to talk to the officials but they act like they are unaware of his presence.
This experience for Bromden creates a withdrawal from society, and encourages him to keep to himself because no one seems to care for what he has to say. Another reason why the Chief is so quite and reserved is because he feels safe. On pg.12 while hiding in the broom closet, he thinks back to a time when he and his father went hunting. “The bird is safe as long as he keeps still.” Here Bromden is talking about a bird that is being targeted by a dog, and how the bird is safe as long as the dog is unaware of its presence. Bromden is relating this experience to his current situation in the novel, he is trying to keep still in the broom closet so the black boys will not be able to find him.
Chief Bromden is also insecure about himself. “No. I’m way too little. I used to be big, but not no more, you’re twice the size of me.” This is a quote from pg.186, the Chief is talking to McMurphy. Although Chief is really a lot bigger and stronger than McMurphy he feels as if he’s actually smaller and weaker. The reason why Chief Bromden feels this way is because no one gives him any respect. He does not feel as if he is important and this makes him feel small. McMurphy makes a deal with the Chief that he can make him as big and as strong as he used to be.
McMurphy does this not by muscle building but by building up Chief’s self-esteem. On pg.190 McMurphy compliments the Chief, “Oh man, I tell you, I tell you, you’ll have women trippin’ you and beatin’ you to the floor.” After this compliment he pull’s of Chief’s bed sheet’s and says, “Look there, Chief. Haw. What’d I tell ya? You growed a half a foot already.”
Chief Bromden is a normal human being, who has been criticized and torn down by society into a small worthless man. Because of the lack of acceptance in society the Chief turns to the mental institution where he is accepted no questions asked. However the institution is not able provide him with self-respect and worth he needs, but his friend McMurphy is. After spending some time with McMurphy the Chief is able to regain a sense of himself as an individual.