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Character Development of Chief Bromden in “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest”

Introduction

What makes one insane is what makes him saner to understand the different situations that are occurring around him, involving the people living around him. Perhaps the irony between insanity and understanding makes the story of “One Flew over the  cuckoo’s Nest” very interesting especially when it comes to presenting the reality behind all the possible pretentions and presumptions that are present in the society of people who are assumed to be just normal. In the being of Chief Bromden, the narrative of the story specifically creates a more refined indication of what insanity and sanity is all about and how it affects one’s understanding of life. Through the development of the story, it has been shown how Chief Bromden’s characteristic changed slowly hence affecting the understanding of the readers towards the reliable force of insanity to mirror the reality about certain situations in the society.

In the discussion that follows, Chief Bromden’s being is to be discussed based on the development that he has come through with as he stayed in the asylum[1]. His experiences, as shown in the story, affect so much his interpretation of the observations that he narrates in the story[2]. Notably, the story promotes a more refined condition of seeing the worth of a person beyond the mental capacities that could actually seem to undermine his capability to understand the situations occurring around him.

Chief Bromden and His Connection to Other Characters

            Bromden was presented in the story as a tall and broad Indian chief who could have broaden his belief on a machine named “the combine” which has contributed to his being labeled as insane. He noted at the first parts of his narration these lines:

I been silent so long now it’s gonna roar out of me like floodwaters and you think the guy telling this is ranting and raving my God; you think this is too horrible to have really happened, this is too awful to be the truth! But, please. It’s still hard for me to have a clear mind thinking on it. But it’s the truth even if it didn’t happen” (p.8).

 

It could be analyzed from this line how seemingly unfitting it is for Bromden to tell an event and yet he manages to create a picture that would relay the specific issues that are occurring around him and to the people involved in his environment. At this point, the story then begins during the admission of Mc Murphy in the ward. Bromden observes him to be loud and disruptive. Being a big man, Mc Murphy was noted by Bromden as someone who hopes to control the ward as he presented himself to everyone else hoping to get their attention and respect. To this he adds the narration of Mc Murphy’s reaction when he first came in the ward:

“I mean—hell, I been surprised how sane you guys all are. As near as I can tell you’re not any crazier than the average asshole on the street—” (p. 63)

This especially happened during the debate of who was crazier than whom. Branding the less-crazy as the “acutes”, Bromden was noted to have a particular eye towards the people evolving around him as he continues to observe their behavior and the way that they mingle with others.

Bromden also introduces Nurse Ratched in the story who was described to a have a strong attachment on the thought of putting Mc Murphy and his disruptive behavior into a halt. Unlike that of Mc Murphy, Nurse Ratched was described by Bromden to be more uptight yet calm especially in dealing with her patients. To this description he adds:

 “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” (p. 5).

Through the times of Bromden’s observation of both Mc Murphy and Nurse Ratched [also branded as the Big Nurse in the story] he notes the different ways by which the patient tries to make a miserable course of life for the nurse at every opportunity possible. As he notes his observations, he also tries to identify the behavioral flaws and the pattern that the actors follow as they tend to respond to the reaction of the other towards them. The conflict that Bromden tries to define specifically leads towards the definition of the “combine machine” that he believes to be existing. In observing the acts of Mc Murphy and his pursuit towards gaining more benefit through taunting the “big nurse”, Bromden learns that behavior is a sense of control that one has over the other. The more dominating one is, the more possible it would be for him to be the one to dominate a particular group. In a way, Bromden views the physical appearance of Ratched to be her key towards authority, but it is the desire of Mc Murphy to be prominent that makes him win over the authority that Ratched holds for a long time.

From that point, the hallucinations about the behavior-controlling machine seem to have stopped on the part of Bromden. However, when Mc Murphy was finally kept off from his mischief due to being guarded and observed towards the possibility of being committed, Bromden returns to his state of doubt. Being schizophrenic as he is, Bromden has two separate sets of reasoning that he uses. At times, his hallucinations overpower his state of sanity hence causing him to negate his thoughts especially when he begins to be strongly convinced that the combine machine does exist. As he continues his observation specifically on Mc Murphy, the story leads towards the idea that the truth about the cases that other patients have had to deal with specifically presents the different effects of the medication and other sets of treatments towards the inpatients. In relation to how he understands Mc Murphy’s behavior towards life, he notes:

“While McMurphy laughs. Rocking farther and farther backward against the cabin top, spreading his laugh out across the water—laughing at the girl, the guys, at George, at me sucking my bleeding thumb, at the captain back at the pier and the bicycle rider and the service-station guys and the five thousand houses and the Big Nurse and all of it. Because he knows you have to laugh at the things that hurt you just to keep yourself in balance, just to keep the world from running you plumb crazy” (p. 237).

All throughout the story, Bromden tries to narrate how one turns against the other over and over through the utilization of extensive strategies that are most often than not leading to the destructive situations of the entire organization. The horrific events that followed alongside these particular occurrences specifically affected the thinking of the patients especially when it comes to their limitations. The authority that the nurses are supposed to have towards the patients has become more established at the failure of Mc Murphy. Bromden’s claims on how behavior is being controlled by a machine is more likely then related to the idea of the people being controlled through the existence of authority placed on the shoulders of others used against another group of individuals.

Understanding the Character Development of Bromden

            Observably, Bromden was presented to be more than just an insane patient with schizophrenia who needed treatment and medication. More than just an observant patient, he was presented in the story as someone who seemingly had a better understanding as to why people like him are being kept in asylums. He specifically describes his observations and gives details that offer a more defined understanding as to how the supposedly “sane” ones respond to the “insane” plotting of patients who have lesser understanding of the situations that are occurring around them[3]. The patients in this story are considered to have mental incapability or imbalances hence causing them to lose control of what they do. Relatively, it could be analyzed that with such incapability to control themselves, they are expected to respond to authority in a much easier manner. Nonetheless, Mc Murphy was defined to go against that normative rule in the ward. Instead, he acted like as if he was thinking fully and that he has the capacity to turn around the system and have the patients receive more benefits than what they are given[4].

Bromden used to believe that there was a combine machine that is supposedly controlling the behavior of the patients. He believes that this is the reason why even though some of the patients may have larger and stronger physique than the nurse, they never go against her. Notably, this belief was changed when Mc Murphy came in the ward. Bromden even considered joining one of the uprising rebellions that Mc Murphy himself has arranged. This basically showed how one man made it easier for Bromden to realize that his theory was biased and that behavior is a decision one takes and not one accepts.

At the turn of events though, it was shown how Bromden’s belief went back to the supposedly baseless theory of the combine machine when Mc Murphy’s actions have been reprimanded and he has been lobotomized for all his acts and later on was wheeled and comatose. Other patients had to bear the thought of being in the same situation hence putting them in a state of “supposed balance” of not going against the authorities of those who are looking over them like what Mc Murphy has incurred. Again, at this point, Bromden goes back to his theory and rethinks the elements of behavioral reaction that he witnessed between Mc Murphy and Ratched. In the end, he and the other patients from the psychiatric ward began to escape which later on led to the killing of Mc Murphy by Bromden. To this incident Bromden defines the situation as he said:

[O]ne flew east, one flew west, one flew over the cuckoo’s nest . . . goose swoops down and plucks you out” (p. 272).

He then thinks that even though at the point of a supposed “victory” that Mc Murphy could have achieved, it was still part of the controlling machine; as if allowing them a chance to see what consequences there would be if they did turn out to be another Mc Murphy who dared to defy the laws and the regulations of the ward.

Conclusion

            True, in the story, Bromden could have been noted to be insane. He could have been defined to have certain incapability especially when it comes to the use of his rational-mental capacities as a grown individual. Nonetheless, the narration he shows and the distinctive belief that he has upon the combine machine shows how intuitive he is when it comes to understanding the response-system of people based on the status and prestige they may have in life[5]. In the case of the asylum, the authorities need to retain their power. And in order to do so, they utilize expansive strategies to use one as an example for on hence controlling the actions and reactions of the majority. It could be realized however that there is a point of reality behind the theoretical belief of Bromden about the occurrence of the machine. Humans do follow a certain hierarchy of command in the society. It may be guided by the differences of gender, age, life status or economic standing of one. Whatever the defining element may be, it is obvious that humans respond to the situations that happen to them according to what particular authority they believe the others may have on them.

The character of Bromden simply mirrors the kind of reaction humans have towards what they see around them. Somehow, he represents the members of the society who tend to follow what others are doing if those things do conform to their comfort zone. Sometimes, there need not be any rules to guard a particular hierarchy. Just a simple presentation of power of one against the other and the supposed firm hierarchy of authority could immediately be dismantled[6]. Nonetheless, as shown in the story’s plot, Bromden seem to have understood the idea that the dismantling of the authority with the nurses and the ward staff seemed to be part of the plan; a plot that would better empower the authority that the others have on them as the patients of the asylum[7]. The occurrences that happened simply sealed the confident source of authority that binds the nurses and other staffs against the standing of the patients in the ward. With this in thought, it is evident how the situation relates to actual life. People who remain in power are those who are able to strategically protect their positions. They may use others as a representation of their authority to make sure that others recognize the power that they have over the lives of others. It is undeniable that up until this day, the same thing happens even within the society of normal individuals.

 

 

 

References:

Baurecht, William. “Separation, Initiation, and Return: Schizophrenic Episode in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” The Midwest Quarterly 23.3 (1982):279-293.

Leeds, Barry. “Theme and Technique in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” The Connecticut Review 7.2 (1974): 35-50.

Sullivan, Ruth. “Kesey and Freud.” Readings on One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Ed. Lawrence Kappel. San Diego: Greenhaven, 2000. 92-102.

Tanner, Stephen. “The Western American Context of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Biographies of Books: The Compositional Histories of Notable American Writings. Ed. James Barbour. Columbia, MS: Missouri UP, 1996. 291-320.

Kessey, Ken. (2005). One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Penguin Modern Classics). Penguin Classics.

[1]Baurecht, William. “Separation, Initiation, and Return: Schizophrenic Episode in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” The Midwest Quarterly 23.3 (1982):279-293.

[2] Tanner, Stephen. “The Western American Context of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Biographies of Books: The Compositional Histories of Notable American Writings. Ed. James Barbour. Columbia, MS: Missouri UP, 1996. 291-320.

[3] Sullivan, Ruth. “Kesey and Freud.” Readings on One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Ed. Lawrence Kappel. San Diego: Greenhaven, 2000. 92-102.

[4] Tanner, Stephen. “The Western American Context of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Biographies of Books: The Compositional Histories of Notable American Writings. Ed. James Barbour. Columbia, MS: Missouri UP, 1996. 291-320.

[5] Leeds, Barry. “Theme and Technique in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” The Connecticut Review 7.2 (1974): 35-50.

[6] Sullivan, Ruth. “Kesey and Freud.” Readings on One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Ed. Lawrence Kappel. San Diego: Greenhaven, 2000. 92-102.

[7] Tanner, Stephen. “The Western American Context of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Biographies of Books: The Compositional Histories of Notable American Writings. Ed. James Barbour. Columbia, MS: Missouri UP, 1996. 291-320.