Schweda, analysis 4: Bromden, reliable or nah?

“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.” –Chief Bromden, page 8

I think one of the most important parts of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest is deciding on if you can trust a neuro-diverse narrator.  Chief Bromden is a Columbia Indian who suffers from schizophrenia.  While this is completely different than autism, Chief is still different than the nuerotypical people that work in the asylum. By pretending to be both deaf and mute, Chief appears powerless to the general public.  However, through his narration Chief reveals his power is his knowledge.  People talk freely around him, assuming he can’t reiterate what he hears when in reality, he understands and recalls everything. He defines himself as a “Chronic” or somebody who is in the hospital not to get fixed, but rather to stay off the street. I think this is important because it shows that Chief isn’t trying to fit the mold of the neurotypical.  He’s figured out the “combine” and has no interest in joining that world. However, Chief’s illness is real.  He suffers with schizophrenia which weakens his credibility.  The Brain and Behavior Foundation defines schizophrenia as the following:

“Schizophrenia is a severe, chronic, and generally disabling brain and behavior disorder.  Positive symptoms may include delusions, thought disorders, and hallucinations. People with schizophrenia may hear voices other people don’t hear, or believe other people are reading their minds, controlling their thoughts, or plotting to harm them. Negative symptoms may include avolition (a lack of desire or motivation to accomplish goals), lack of desire to form social relationships, and blunted affect and emotion. Cognitive symptoms involve problems with attention and memory, especially in planning and organization to achieve a goal. Cognitive deficits are the most disabling for patients trying to lead a normal life.”

Despite the diagnosis of schizophrenia, I think Chief Bromden is a perfect example of a reliable mentally ill narrator. He clearly has some hallucinations but overall, he’s a smart man who uses his mental illness to his advantage (like pretending to be deaf and mute to learn secrets).  He has an understanding of the hospital and the world in general that the reader can figure out using context clues. I really think that the reader can trust what Chief tells them as long as they can sort through the occasional hallucination. I think it’s a safe assumption that it would be a lot harder to trust the narrator if somebody like Murphey was telling the story rather than Chief.



2 thoughts on “Schweda, analysis 4: Bromden, reliable or nah?

  1. danielbowengv

    I think that you are perfectly correct in saying that one of the most interesting aspects of this text is deciding whether or not to trust the narrator Chief Bomden and his accounts of what occurs in the mental institution. I’ll even cede to you that I think it prudent to trust him to an extent with his accounts from the inside but I’d be against placing an absolute trust in his narrative as you seem to advocate.

    For the most part, I think that you are correct in saying that we as readers can recognize when Chief is having his schizoid induced hallucinations. The problem I see however is that when such serious psychiatric episodes happen with as much frequency as they do to Chief it calls into question whether or not these things occurred at all. I think you may have chosen your own rope by including this quote:

    “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.” – (Kesey, 8)

    This quote is a perfect exemplification as to why we need to take his account of events in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” with a massive grain of salt. There are certainly some hard and obviously disturbing truths that are hidden within Chief’s narrative as it would necessarily need some input from the world that exists around him but I think we need to maintain some distance from his mindset.

    The problem with having a narrator who is undeniably mentally ill is that everything that they say and believe is undermined by their mental illness. One single drop of poison ruins a whole meal and unfortunately Chief’s schizophrenia is a sizable pill to swallow. Consuming his account wholesale, therefore, seems like a recipe for disaster.

    Kesey, Ken, and John Clark. Pratt. One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. New York: Penguin, 1996. Print.

    Shmoop Editorial Team. “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest Narrator Point of View.” Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 24 Oct. 2016.


  2. kiesselt

    I also thought about this throughout the assigned reading for this week. At first I was very convinced that Bromden was not at all a reliable narrator. The fog that he kept referring to coupled with his, what we now know is false, blind and deafness and neurodivergence appeared to be examples that he may or may not be reliable. However, once reflecting on the reading, I think that the end demonstrated that Chief Bromden is very much capable of giving an accurate portrayal of events despite his neurodivergence. When he raised his hand to vote, I think that really demonstrated how he is aware of events and capable of observing and having valuable input, contrary to the belief of all the other staff and residents. I also think that the fog could possibly represent the haze that institutions and misguided stereotypes can place on neurodivergents when they are not understood and trying to be changed. This reading also brought me back to one of our first classes when we talked about autistic space and how misunderstood neurodivergents can be perceived by institutions and neurotypicals. I think Bromden demonstrates this idea very well.



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