“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.