“I’ve heard that theory of the Therapeutic Community enough times to repeat it forwards and backwards—how a guy has to learn to get along in a group before he’ll be able to function in normal society; how the group can help the guy by showing him where he’s out of place; how society is what decides who’s sane and who isn’t, so you got to measure up.” –Chief, pg. 47
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (OFOCN), by Ken Kesey begins with a new patient entering the Combine, or the mental institution. While the story is told from Chief Bromden’s perspective, the subject of the book itself lies within the interactions between the other characters. Chief becomes our all-knowing, seemingly omnipotent narrator. He has the ability to eavesdrop and report it back to the audience with a heightened sense of awareness about the world around him. In spite of this, he is labeled a Chronic, labeled insane, and labeled neurodivergent.
The above quote is the epitome of the differences between the neurotypical and the neurodiverse. It also further asserts that neurodiversity is a social construct created by the neurotypical, or “society”, as Chief puts it. Chief states that their group meetings and the “reporting on one another” is beneficial and essential for their “treatment”. If they become more aware of their “insane” habits or “insane” thought processes, which often presents itself through conversation, then they will know what part of themselves to repress to be “normal”.
Society decides who’s sane and who isn’t, he says. Chief might have his own personal shortcomings, but he is brilliantly aware of what goes on around him. When McMurphy comes about and disrupts their status quo, he is able to understand who McMurphy is as a person. McMurphy claims he “isn’t a loony”, and I think Chief would agree because of the differences between McMurphy and the rest of the crew. Likewise, McMurphy was thrown in the Combine when he started to display worrying symptoms of “insanity”, which is described as “bouts of passion” and a “sex addiction”. Society frowns upon these, and therefore, he is placed among the Acutes and the Chronics.
With OFOCN, we readers are getting a firsthand insight into a neurodivergent character. The story is told entirely from his perspective (so far anyway), and we have to determine whether or not to trust him. This mental institution is delivered to us through Chief’s lens and his words. Sometimes, we don’t know if reality is being represented, or we are given a façade. For example, I mean the scene on pages 82-87. Are we experiencing Chief’s “real” and “unrestricted” world? are we experiencing the world of Chief off his medication? or is the institution full of machines and people who murder in the night?
So far, I’m really enjoying OFOCN and I’m so roped into it and captivated that I can’t wait to see how the world that Kesey has illustrated will pan out. Chief’s narrative voice is so distinct and clear, and if the story was told from a different perspective, I don’t think it would be granted the same effect on readers.