In Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, a patient suffering from schizophrenia was chosen to narrate the story, which greatly affects our perception of the events in the novel. The world that Kesey creates in the novel is through the eyes of Chief Bromden, a chronic patient in the ward. Bromden’s observant nature causes for very detailed descriptions of the events in the novel. Chief fakes being deaf, and as a result, he is able to eavesdrop any conversation in the ward, often being able to reveal foreshadowing details, and otherwise secret information.
Although these characteristics make him a reliable source and a good narrator, Chief’s schizophrenic episodes and paranoid nature create skewed views of reality, with very little distinction as to what is a literary device, or what is literally a hallucination. If the narration were given through a more rational character, such as McMurphy, the differentiation between delusion and actuality would have been more cogent. Using Chief Bromden as a narrator restricts the reader’s perception of the novel, despite this, a very reliable and creative perspective of the events is then created, which gives a huge edge to the novel.
The very detailed accounts of the events make each scene seem more real. As the very descriptive narrator that Bromden is, the world that he describes is very unique. Chief uses the metaphor that the world is a “combine” in that it takes the undesirable or less than perfect members of society, mangles, chops, and slashes them into the proper shape and size for acceptability, and then spits them right back out. In the words of Bromden, “The ward is a factory for the Combine. It’s for fixing up mistakes made in the neighborhoods and in the schools and in the churches, the hospital is.
Sometimes one man says something about himself that he didn’t aim to slip, and one of his buddies… sidles over to the big log book by the Nurses’ Station and writes down the piece of information he heard of- of therapeutic interest to the whole ward, is what the Big Nurse says the book is for… ” But on the other side of the spectrum, Bromden’s schizophrenia adds a sort of shroud to the perception that people get from his narrations. So she really lets herself go and her painted smile twists, stretches to an open snarl, and she blows up bigger and bigger, big as a tractor, so big I can smell the machinery inside the way you smell a motor pulling too big a load” in any other novel, this sort of observation would be passed off simply as literary devices, but Chief Bromden actually perceives Nurse Ratched as getting bigger as a result of the anger caused by conduct not being followed in her ward.
These hallucinations that occur regularly in the novel have a huge affect on the reader’s perception of events in the novel, because the reader can experience through the eyes of a person who is actually mentally ill, which makes the novel and the events within it all the more relevant to those reading it. Utilizing the facade that he was deaf, Bromden would consistently listen in on Nurse Ratched and other members and staff in the ward, and his nonchalant way of doing it made him a very indispensible, integral character to the plot.
Most of the foreshadowing events that Chief conveys to the reader was overheard from people in the ward. Believeing he was deaf, Nurse Ratched would constantly, unknowingly, disclose confidential information to Chief when he would over hear her discussing this information. For example, Chief Bromden overheard the doctors discussing amongst themselves how to best deal with McMurphy and the disruptive behavior that he brought to the ward.
The doctors were arguing over weather or not to send him to the Disturbed branch of the hospital. As the doctors debated amongst themselves, Nurse Ratched eventually intervened, “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” this suggestion made by Mildred foreshadows her intentions for McMurphy, and is a very good example of how Bromden’s faking of being “Deaf & Dumb” adds to his ability and reliability of being able to deliver good perception of the novel to the reader.
Ken Kesey’s choice to use Bromden as a narrator has many positives and negatives. Bromden is able to act as a very effective channeler of information to the reader, as he is able to secretly eavesdrop on confidential conversations that give light to the shady events that take place in the ward. Bromden’s ability to describe and explain events in the novel in such extraordinary detail help the reader better understand the plot and complexities in the story.
Despite all of this, Bromden’s aggressive mental illness creates many defects in the delivery of understanding and sense to the reader. The atmosphere of the ward can often be obstructed by the “fog” that Bromden’s paranoia constantly drags him into, and these brief escapes from reality, although very engaging and intimate, can hinder the reader’s ability to comprehend the content of the novel.
Kesey’s use of hallucinations also put up another wall in the perception of the reader, because the differentiation between veracity and phantasm is very hard to make. Overall, Bromden’s position as narrator is very successful in delivering the main points and fundamental values of the Beat inspired Kesey, such as the importance of individualism, the dangers of blind conformity, and the natural human quality of spontaneity.