In the novel, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the author, Ken Kesey, chose a patient suffering from schizophrenia to narrate the story that is based on Kesey’s own experiences. The first-person narrative of a patient, Chief Bromden, makes the asylum setting ordinary, and encourages the reader to invest in the personalities of its inhabitants instead of perceiving the characters as mere poke and shallow. Kasey’s inclusion of Bromden’s delusions within the narrative itself, which are at first a disruption to the reader used to linear narratives of the real, become merely another narrative model for the reader as the novel progresses.
Demonstration thought allows the reader to discover that while Bromden’s disability makes him different, it is not debilitating for him as a narrator, nor, more importantly, as a man. Such insights into Bromden and the others initiate in the reader a reassessment of potentially unexamined perceptions of mental institutions, their inhabitants, and lead the reader to review the origins of concepts such as blind and speechless. The novel is seen through the eye of Chief Bromden and how he interprets the world he lives in, which he calls “the Combine. Bromden has a very observant eye and gives detailed descriptions. His peer’s false assumption of Bromden’s hearing gives Chief the ability to spy, revealing foreshadowing details. Although these characteristics make him a reliable source and a high-quality narrator, because of Chief’s hallucinations and paranoia, some of his opinions and visions are misleading. If the story were told through a sane character, such as Randal McMurphy, the distinction between reality and illusion would have been more lucid.
Using Chief Bromden as a narrator puts limitations on the reader’s interpretations, but also gives a very reliable and creative perspective of the events in Ken Kesey’s, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Very detailed descriptions make a scene seem more real. Chief Bromden is a very descriptive narrator and he describes his world uniquely. “It’s still hard for me to have clear mind thinking on it. But it’s the truth even if it didn’t happen (13),” said Bromden. Though what he describes sounds unrealistic and impossible, it, metaphorically, is true and gives the reader a better understanding of the context, even if it didn’t actually happen.
When Nurse Ratched became very intense, Bromden described her as “swelling up, swells till her back’s splitting out of the white uniform (11). ” A person cannot swell and rip out of their cloths in a matter of seconds and this example shows how exaggerated and animated Bromden narrates. This description gives the reader a clear picture of how mad and furious this woman can get. When Bromden witnesses McMurphy encounter the nurse in the hallway wearing only a towel, Chief describes the big nurse’s reaction as he interprets it.
Bromden explains the nurse’s reaction as going from a beastly scary size to a small intimidated size. “Just as she’s rolling along at her biggest and meanest, McMurphy steps out of the latrine door right in front of her, holding a towel around his hips-stops her dead! She shrinks to about head-high to where that towel covers him, and he’s grinning down on her. Her own grin is giving way, sagging at the edges (86). ” Bromden explains how the nurse felt extremely threatened by McMurphy exposed sexuality in a very creative and effective way.
Metaphorically, what he saw is true. Bromden’s unique way of understanding and then explaining events helps emphasize important details in the novel and having this ability makes him an informative narrator. Along with his unique eye, Bromden has a very interesting way of eavesdropping that also makes him a great narrator. Chief Bromden’s lack of speech created the impression that Chief was “deaf and dumb” to the other patients and workers on the ward. “Just a bi-big deaf Indian,”(26) this is how the stuttering Billy Bibbit describes Bromden to the sane Randal McMurphy.
Little do they know the quite and discreet patient listens in on the surrounding conversations as he sweeps the corridors. The Chief’s secret sense of hearing gives him the advantage not just the advantage of self informative but an advantage to all of the gossip within the ward and that makes him a knowledgeable character. The knowledge that Bromden overhears is one of the reasons he makes a good narrator. Such important discussions would not be held around other characters because others know they are capable of hearing. “If I signed up it’d be the same as coming right out and telling everybody I wasn’t deaf.
If I’d been hearing all this talk about boats and fishing it’d show I’d been hearing everything else that’d had been said in confidence around me for the past ten years… I had to keep on acting deaf if wanted to hear it all (178). ” Bromden liked being able to listen in on Nurse Ratched and other workers’ conversations and his clandestine way of doing it made him a dependable, important character to the plot. Some of the information the Chief overhears foreshadows events. Nurse Ratched would often say confidential things around him because she too believed he was deaf.
One day while Chief was sweeping the corridors, he overheard doctors in the staff meeting deciding how McMurphy should be handled due to his disruptive behavior. The doctors were debating whether or not to send him to the disturbed branch of the hospital. Nurse Ratched had a very interesting attitude toward this option and Bromden overheard: “He is simply a man and no more, and is subject to all fears and all the cowardice and all the timidity that any other man is subject to. Given a few more days, I have a strong feeling that he will prove this, to us as well as the rest of the patients.
If we keep him on the ward I am certain his brashness will subside, his self-made rebellion will dwindle to nothing, and our redheaded hero will cut himself down to something patients will all recognize and lose respect for (136)”. This segment is very significant for foreshadowing the fact that McMurphy will receive a lobotomy later in the novel. This part of the novel helps lead up to the climax. Bromden’s ability to discretely listen into conversations allows supplying information to the reader as well as advancing the plot.
Although Bromden does have many advantages as the narrator, there are also many limitations due to his illness. Chief Bromden’s schizophrenia creates problems for the reader. His schizophrenia causes him to hallucinate. A hallucination is a mistaken idea or an allusion. Sometimes Chief Bromden described things that could have been a hallucination but also could have been real because of his creative way of explaining. This can cause confusion for the reader. When Blastic died, Bromden described the death in a way that gave the impression it was a hallucination. He goes to the bed and with one hand grabs the old vegetable Blastic by the heel and lifts him straight up like Blastic don’t weight more’s a few pounds… The worker takes a scalpel and slices up the front of old Blastic with a clean swing… I expect to be sick, but there’s no blood or innards falling out like I was looking to see-just a shower of rust and ashes, and now and then a piece of wire or glass (80, 81). ” Realistically, if Blastic were sliced open Bromden would see blood and bowels, but because Bromden describes what he sees as rust and wires, it gives the idea that this is only a hallucination.
Surprisingly, though this seems unrealistic, Blastic did die during this scene of the novel but not how Bromden described it. This scene also seems like a hallucination because Bromden mentions retreating into “the fog. ” He imagines that the staff controls a number of fog machines throughout the ward, and they are turned on whenever he is frightened. “They start the fog machine again and it’s snowing down cold and white all over me like skim milk (13),” describes Bromden before he receives electroshock therapy.
The fog represents a safe haven for Bromden that makes him feel invisible to others when he is afraid. The fog limits the reader’s understanding of world inside the Mental Hospital because it allows Bromden to ignore reality. Abuse in Bromden’s world, which he calls “the Combine,” could have been even more shocking if we had been able to understand what was actually happening while Bromden was “hiding in the fog. ” As a narrator, Bromden’s hallucinations and paranoia create limitations on his abilities to explain frightening details and can even cause confusion for the reader.
The chief sees things in literal metaphors, he sees McMurphy as being really big in size because he is so brave (and big in spirit). The chief compares McMurphy to his father, because they were both such strong people. His father fought for a long time to save his land from the government, but eventually was made to give it up, this reduced him to wasting the rest of his life drinking and becoming a shadow of the man he once was. Using Chief Bromden as narrator has many ups and downs. He acts as an informational guide throughout the novel because he can secretly listen in on confidential conversations that foreshadow upcoming events.
His ability to explain an event in such an effective manner also helps the reader better understands the story. Although, Chief Bromden’s mental illness does create defects. His paranoia causes him to often retreat into “the fog” as an escape from reality which can limit the readers understanding of atmosphere in the mental ward. The hallucinations also can make it difficult for the reader to differentiate a hallucination and reality. Ken Kesey’s experiences in the 1950’s are expressed very well in his novel, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, through the main character and narrator, Chief Bromden.