5 thoughts on “Cuckoo’s Nest 1

  1. Aidan Cameron

    Bromden conveys the happenings inside the ward with a peculiar twist. He adopts the dehumanizing language used to classify patients (Walkers, Wheelers, Vegetables) and further infuses it with technical imagery, especially pertaining to machines. These images are first revealed in the narrator’s description of his own group of patients: “What the Chronics are – or most of us – are machines with flaws inside that can’t be repaired, flaws born in, or flaws beat in over so many years of the guy running head-on into solid things that by the time the hospital found him he was bleeding rust in some vacant lot.“ Some patients enter the hospital already in this mental state, but others are rendered docile by brutal procedures. The treatments described by Bromden seem more like repairs being done to a car, except that they don’t fix the underlying problem – they merely hide it, as in the “Shock Shop” where they “overload” patients with electroshock therapy, or on the operating table via lobotomies which render Ruckly’s eyes “all smoked up and gray and deserted inside like blown fuses.” The staff concede that such operations are failures in some way, and readily point to Chronic patients as examples in order to coerce Acutes into obedience. This power dynamic turns on its head with the arrival of McMurphy, whose social prowess Bromden conveys as manipulating “dials in the control panel.” Similarly, Nurse Ratched’s control of the ward is described as extending “in all directions on hairlike wires too small for anybody’s eye but mine.” At the very least, his fixation with machinery may explain Nurse Ratched’s suppression of him with the “fog.”

  2. Grant Friedman

    I see Bromdon’s narration shaping Cuckoo’s Nest by juxtaposing the rigidly structured world of the hospital with Bromdon’s peripheral involvement in the world of the hospital. As Irene discussed, Bromdon feigns being deaf and dumb, even attempts to avoid making eye contact so that he does not have to interact with those around him. He attempts to resist authority in pretending to take a pill given to him, or hiding in a broom closet when told to go shave. He tries to place his thoughts other places, and yet this never works: “But like always when I try to place my thoughts in the past and hide there, the fear close at hand seeps in through the memory” (p. 6). He is always brought back to his reality in the asylum, a world in which he is forced to adhere to the imposed order. He sleeps when he is told, mops the floors as instructed, and stays on the side of the room that he is supposed to. In the way he toes the line between passive observer of, and active participant in, the system. The title of his position also emphasizes such a juxtaposition: he is a walker, a moderately ambiguous position between the acutes and the wheelers. He appears to be one of the only ones in this category of patient, thus contributing to his unique perspective on life within the hospital.

  3. Irene Margiotta

    I think that Bromden’s narration shapes the novel as an observer. By the sheer fact that Bromden acts deaf and dumb, his role is to observe and follow along with what’s happening on the ward. His detail and description of some of the characters and events are striking and sharp. I’m reading on a kindle, so my pages are a little off, but I’m thinking of one example from early on when he details the Big Nurse:

    “Then … she sights those black boys. They’re still down there together, mumbling to one another. They didn’t hear her come on the ward. They sense she’s glaring down at them now, but it’s too late. They should of knew better’n to group up and mumble together when she was due on the ward. Their faces bob apart, confused.”

    Strong diction (“glaring”) and visual imagery (“their faces bob apart”) paint a vivid picture for the reader. Without Bromden, and instead a third person narrator, the description of day-to-day life in the ward would feel impersonal and distant.

    Bromden is apt to see interpersonal interactions, especially ones he’s not technically supposed to see or hear, like when he goes in to clean the Nurses station or offices. He is very sensitive, and is aware of how people’s actions, particularly McMurphy’s, affect the other patients on the ward. I think Bromden’s delusions impact his vision. While his perceptions of the fog, or the elevator down to the basement, create a lasting effect on Bromden’s mindset for the reader, it muddles his own understandings. He even says himself, “Idiot, you just had a nightmare; things as crazy as a big machine room down in the bowels of a dam where people get cut up by robot workers don’t exist. But if they don’t exist, how can a man see them?”

    These perceptions and misperceptions illustrate Bromden’s illness and further nuance his character. I’m interested to see how his role progresses in the rest of the novel.

    1. Lucy Maddox

      One of the most ambiguous elements of Chief Bromden’s narration is the fog that continuously appears in the mental ward. At times Bromden makes the fog seem literal, referring to it as a “fog machine” which creates the image of literal fog being dispensed in the hallways. Later on in the passage he says “ten minutes to one the fog dissolves completely,” furthering the literal depiction of the fog. However, because we know that the Chief is both mentally ill and taking medication, the reader can recognize that the fog is potentially medically induced or a figment of the Chief’s creation: “Before noontime they’re at the fog machine again but they haven’t got it turned up full; it’s not so thick but what I can see if I strain real hard. 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.” The way that the Chief talks about “los[ing]” oneself in the fog portrays the fog as a mental experience that may solely may be occurring for Bromden rather than for all of the patients. However, Kesey also associates the fog with Nurse Ratched, which implies that the fog may also be symbolic of the control she has over the patients. Bromden claims that the fog is “made” by Nurse Ratched. It keeps the patients from rebelling against the nurse, but it also keeps them satisfied with their lives and prevents them from thinking about anything real, which is ultimately what gives the Nurse so much power and control over the patients.

      1. Catherine Pollack

        Like Lucy, I found the “fog” to be one of the most striking pieces of Bromden’s narration. He describes it as completely debilitating, writing that when Nurse Ratched releases it through the vents his lungs “pull for the thick plastic air like getting it through a pinhole” and he feels like he has been “buried under a ton of sand, squeezing my bladder till green sparks flesh and buzz across my forehead.” Furthermore, he writes that while he first tried to fight, he has learned to give in and let himself be lost in its safe oblivion. Reading about the fog initially, I was thrown off because, excluding his dreams, he always seemed to be a reliable and trustworthy narrator. In fact, I truly believed that an actual fog of medication was being released into the ward until watching the movie. I kept waiting for the fog to appear but it never did. While I was disappointed not to have seen how the producers were going to depict the fog filling the ward, I was not entirely surprised because like Lucy said it is likely that the fog was related to the medications he was being forced to take in the ward. I do think it raises two important points, however, if the fog is not real. First, that Bromden is not quite as reliable as I thought he was which calls into question other ways in which he presents the story. This unreliability is certainly evident in other parts of the story too once I started looking for it. For example, when Cheswick drowns after getting his fingers stuck in the grate, Bromden barely devotes a paragraph to it, not exhibiting any emotional response or time to the traumatic incident. Second, the lack of fog in the movie points to a serious flaw in the movie which is that it completely takes Bromden’s narration out of the equation. This loss of Bromden as narrator gives the viewer a much more objective sense of the scenes and I think in many ways made the patients seem more insanse than they were through Bromden’s eyes and his narration. Bromden’s narration is critical to the story and it drastically changes all of it to merely make him a secondary character.

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