Chief Bromden in Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest


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Chief Bromden in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

 

Chief Bromden is half American Indian. His father was a chief named Tee Ah Millatoona, which means The-pine-that-stands-tallest-on-the-mountain. That is why he is able to use the title chief. He took on his mother's last name of Bromden. He grew up in the Columbian gorge. The chief is massive and tall and would appear very intimidating and threatening to those who meet him. He was committed to the hospital and has been there for longer than anyone else, for over 15 years.

 

He was put in there after World War two. The chief was an electrician's assistant in a training camp before the army shipped him off to Germany. It is probably due to working with electronics and the added strain of going to war that has led the chief to have such an unhealthy preoccupation with electronics.

 

The chief has led everyone in the hospital, both staff and patients to believe he is deaf and dumb. As a young child he was always ignored, by fellow students and adults, this could have been because he was so strange looking, being half American Indian and appearing so big and menacing yet being quite shy. "I had to keep acting deaf if I wanted to hear at all." He felt rejected by his peers throughout life and so as an adult decided that as people acted like he was invisible he might as well disappear, "It wasn't me that started acting deaf, it was people that first started acting like I was too dumb to hear or see or say anything at all." So pretending to be deaf and dumb was probably a defence mechanism. For him, his silence is also extremely potent. As he is able to hear everything that went on in the meetings where the doctors and nurses discuss the future of the patients. The doctors and nurses don't hesitate to say anything in front of him because they think he can't hear. "They don't bother not talking out loud about their hate secrets when I'm nearby because they think I'm deaf and dumb."

 

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).

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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.

 

The chief sees the same fighting quality in McMurphy and that is why he respects and looks up to him so much. He doesn't want to see McMurphy being beaten by the system as his father was, and that is a definitive reason in which the chief helps McMurphy die. He compares McMurphy to his father by saying " Everybody worked on him because he was big, and wouldn't give in, and did like he pleased. Everybody worked on him just the way they're working on you."

 

The climax of the novel is when Chief Bromden picks up the large heavy control panel from the tub room and throws it through the window to escape. The significance of this is that the Chief had finally done was he had been waiting to do all his life and what McMurphy promised would happen: He had become big. Not only physically, but big as a person. He feels strong and knows he can survive outside life in the ward.

 

The chief believes the size of a person is the most valuable thing about them, but he does not measure physically. He measures the size of someone by the strength of the character and their courageousness. By picking up they extremely heavy control panel and hurling it through the window, he is breaking free of the past 15 years of his life in the mental institution and in fact breaking free of every part of his former self. He is a new, stronger, braver and better man. Someone just like McMurphy or his father. He has escaped the institution and is finally able to stand on his own.

 


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