What is reality? The novel One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, written by Ken Kesey, explores living in a mental institution through the mind of a patient. As the reader begins the novel, they would naturally think that a patient found in a mental hospital would be insane. As Kesey introduces you to the patients, and you see the institution in their eyes, you believe that they are really normal people, and society is insane. The main character, Chief Bromden is a half Indian man, who is considered schizophrenic. Randall McMurray, the newest patient in the ward, causes many difficult situations for the Nurse. Nurse Ratched is the authority figure for the patients and likes everything to be run her way.
A man who is known as Chief Bromden, the main character, starts as seeming to be a shy, weak man. This is shown in the first chapter on page three, when a caretaker of the institution talks of him while he is present, “Big enough to eat apples off my head an’ he mine me like a baby.” Chief Bromden is in the hospital because he is schizophrenic, and is considered deaf and dumb, because he never talks or acknowledges people. At the end of the novel, McMurray becomes a vegetable because of all of the shock treatments he had received. Bromden displays that he is caring by smothering him with a pillow, because he knows that McMurray would not want to live like that. One of the reasons that people find him shy is that he would much rather be quiet, and observe his surroundings. Page 26-27 (Bromden thinking of Nurse Ratched)
“I’ve watched her get more skillful over the years. Practice has steadied and strengthened.
her until she wields a sure power that extends in all directions on hair-like wires, too small
for anybody’s eye but mine; I see her sit in the center of this web of wires like a watchful
robot, tend her network with mechanical skill, know every second which wire runs where
and just what current to send up to get the results she wants”
Chief Bromden is the smartest, most caring and gentle man in this novel. He is the kind of guy that many people would like to know, and associate themselves with.
The Chief stands out from the rest of the men of the ward. Physically, he stands out by being half Indian, with long, black oily hair. Also, he is a very large man, standing 6′7″ and having a very muscular build, from playing football when he was a teenager. He stands out mentally by being a “chronic.”
“Across the room are the culls of the Combine’s product – the chromic. Not in the hospital,
these, to get fixed, but just to keep them from walking around the streets giving the
that can’t be repaired.”
The Chief thinks of the outside world to be a “Combine,” which is used throughout the novel. The chief is very different from the men living in the hospital alongside him.
Randle Patrick McMurray is the newest addition to the ward. He is compared with two people throughout the novel. His physical traits are compared with that of Paul Bunyan’s. McMurray is red headed, has long red side burns and curly hair. He has a broad chest and jaw and has a distinct red scar that runs along his nose and cheekbone. Another prominent feature of his, is a tattoo on his left hand of an anchor. McMurray’s large, beat-up hands and tanned body are a result of many years working on a farm, P. 12, “His face and neck and arms are the color of ox blood leather.” He is the most recent addition to the ward, and one of the reasons he was placed there was because he is obsessed with sex and committed statutory rape with a 15-year-old girl. The second person they compare McMurray to is Christ. He goes through a kind of crucifixion when he begins a series of electric shock treatments. When the attendant places salve on his temples, McMurray says, P 270, “Anointest my head with conductant. Do I get a crown of thorns?” Randall McMurray’s role is obvious in the world, described to be a cross between Paul Bunyan and Christ.
McMurray’s personality is very rejuvenating to the ward. Before he arrived, the men that live in the ward were weak, and seem ashamed of themselves. Once McMurray arrives, they seem to live on his confidence, and drain it out of him to use for themselves. As the men gain more confidence, he seems to become weaker. An example is on P.245, just after the fishing trip, “McMurray seemed dreadfully tied, and strained and frantic, like there was not enough time left for something he had to do.”. McMurray’s confidence is shown when he walks into the world. P ten, (told in chief Bromden’s point of view), “I don’t hear him slide scared along the wall, when they tell him about the shower, he tells them right back in a loud, brassy voice that he is already plenty damn clean, thank you.” McMurray also contributes to the ward by bringing excitement and happiness to the atmosphere. He introduces the men to gambling, which is a great advantage for himself, because it always results in his winning all of the patient’s money. Chief Bromden observes him and says, P.11, “Even when he is not laughing, that laughing sound hovers around him, it’s in his eyes, in the way he smiles and swaggers, in the way he talks.” Chief Bromden also notices McMurray’s confidence when he meets him for the first time, P.10, “I don’t hear him slide scared along the wall, when they tell him about the shower, he tells them right back in a loud brassy voice that he’s already plenty damn clean, thank you.”. One negative thing about McMurray’s personality is that he is in denial of the fact that he is considered insane. P.13 “I gotta couple of hassles at the farm, and the court ruled a psychopath. Do you think I’m going to argue with that? If it gets me outta those damn pea fields I’ll be whatever their heart desires.” Randall McMurray may be the most sane person in the whole institution.
Nurse Ratched is the authority figure of the ward. Chief Bromden thinks that she is a good-looking woman.
P. 5-6, “Her face is smooth, calculated and precision-made, like an expensive baby doll,
skin like flesh colored enamel, blend of white and cream and baby-blue eyes, small nose,
pink little nostrils – everything working together, except the size of her bosom. A mistake
have been otherwise a perfect work.”
Nurse Ratched is one of the three female characters found in the novel. She is described to be a “ball-crusher,” meaning that because she is in control of the men, and that the men are ashamed of this, because she is a woman. The other two characters are prostitutes, generally they display the women in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest negatively, while the men are shown as heroes. At one point, the patients have a huge party during the night when she is not there, and they completely trash the ward. Billy Bibbit, a patient who isn’t committed, but does not have the confidence to live in the “real” world, loses his virginity to a prostitute. Nurse Ratched cannot deal with the fact that they outright rebelled against her so she targets Billy, the weakest of the bunch.
P.301, “What worries me Billy, is how your poor mother is going to take this.”
She got the response she was after, Billy flinched and put his hand to his cheek like he’d
been burned with acid.
“Nuh!Nuh!”, He shook his head, begging her, “You d-don’t n-n-need!”
The Nurse knows that it was McMurray’s idea to have the party, but she is also aware that he is mentally stronger than she, so she targets the weakest man of all. This pushes him into killing himself because she made him feel so ashamed of himself.
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, written by Ken Kesey shows that thoughts of mental patients and what it is like to live in a mental institution. I highly enjoyed this novel, and recommend it to a person that enjoys suspense, along with a theme of self-discoveries.