Racism in Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Racism in Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

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Racism in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

 

Sometimes things that seem crazy actually make sense. A good example is the narrator of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Chief Bromden. He appears to be an insane patient at a mental hospital who hallucinates about irrational mechanical people and a thick fog that permeates the hospital ward where he lives. In reality, Bromden's hallucinations provide valuable insight into the dehumanization that Bromden and the other ward patients are subjected to. Ken Kesey, in his writing of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest brings out his racism in the novel.

 

The Aides in Kesey's novel, who are also called "black boys," negatively portray blacks as inferior to white people in society. The aides had a poor, rough childhood growing up as seen by their lack of education as seen in the quote "`Why, who you s'pose signed chief Bromden up for this foolishness? Inniuns ain't able to write'" (191). Their aides' hatred of the patients stems from their rough childhood. They are also cast as irresponsible and unable to carry out simple jobs. This is evident in the quote "`I'll take him. He's always untying his sheet and roaming around.'" (147), when Turkle, the night-shift aide, lies to the nurse in charge at night by saying that Bromden untied his sheets, when Turkle Irresponsibly untied Bromden's sheets for him.

 

On the morning of the fishing trip on Nurse Ratched's ward, one of Ratched's aides called Bromden illiterate because he was half-Indian. The General statement made by the aid, which was in the quote "`Why, who you s'pose signed chief Bromden up for this foolishness? Inniuns ain't able to write.'" (191), describes Kesey's racism toward Indians. The quote reflects how Indians in Kesey's novel are portrayed as illiterate. Bromden also represents the Indians as imprisoned at the mercy of white people. In Kesey's novel Indians, such as Bromden's father were forced to hand over their land to white people. The Indians' land was very important to them and being forced to give up land was essentially giving up their freedom.

 

The types of jobs that the hospital workers have also indicate Kesey's racism in his novel.

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The hospital workers' jobs are determined by their race. The white people, like Nurse Ratched and Doctor Spivey have professional high-paying jobs, which took an education to achieve, and are very respected. Below the white people are the aides in the novel, who are black. Their work is dirty, low-waged, and not respected. One can assume they didn't have much of an education. At the bottom of the career chain in Kesey's novel lies Chief Bromden, who is forced to do the cleaning jobs that the aides don't want to do on the ward. Bromden cleans the floors, washes the bathrooms, and replaces the patients' Catheter bags. In reality, the jobs of workers are not determined according to race like in Kesey's novel, since a worker's race is not important.

 

Certainly a reader can see the evidence of Kesey's racism in the Cuckoo's nest. Ken Kesey wrote One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in the 1960's. Vocabulary which is not used today was common and freely used several decades ago, so it is best to consider the time period when accusing someone of a certain viewpoint.

 
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