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Mental Illness in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Essay


The novel One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest by Ken Kesey is the story of a man named Chief Bromden and his experiences on an extremely problematic ward of a mental hospital during the mid 1900s. Early in the novel, when it becomes evident that Chief is a classified schizophrenic, it raises the question of whether or not anything in the novel is actually happening, or if all the events that unfold are just creations of his imagination. There are a large number of events that took place in the novel that are clearly hallucinations, but there are also things that happen that could have actually happened outside of Chiefs mind.

One instance early in the novel in which Chief Bromden shows his mental hallucinations is when he refers to the fog machines in the ward. The appearance of fog throughout the novel is associated with Chiefs fear of the Nurse Ratched and the orderlies. Early in the book, when chief is being dragged in by the orderlies to be shaved he says: They start the fog machine again and its snowing down cold and white all over me like skim milk, so thick I might even be able to hide in it if they didnt have a hold on me. I cant see six inches in front of me through the fog and the only thing I can hear over the wail Im making is the Big Nurse whoop and charge up the hall while she crashes patients outta her way with that wicker bag (13). This is an example of a completely unrealistic scenario that Chief believes is happening right before his eyes.

Another piece of evidence supporting the fact that the novel isnt real is Chiefs lack of grasp on the flow of time. Chief states: The Big Nurse is able to set the wall clock at whatever speed she wants by just turning one of those dials in the steel door; she takes a notion to hurry things up, she turns the speed up and those hands whip around that disk like spokes in a wheel. The scene in the picture screen window goes through rapid changes of light to show morning, noon, and night (70). At the time the novel was written, and in which it takes place, the idea of having picture screen windows is highly unrealistic due to the lack of television quality in the mid 20th century. This further leads the reader to believe that Chiefs experiences are merely his own mind playing tricks on him.

One of the largest issues Chief has is his perception of size. Throughout the novel Chief is referenced to be about seven feet tall, easily the tallest on the ward by far. However, when McMurphy asks Chief about his size he simply responds saying: No. Im way too little. I used to be big, but not no more. Youre twice the size of me (186). Size is often associated with power, and the fact that Chief believes he is so short symbolizes the fact that he feels helpless against those big and powerful such as Nurse Ratchet and his mother.

Although there is a great deal of evidence supporting the idea that the events in the novel are all a part of Chiefs imagination. There are some events that seem to be quite normal. These periods of normalcy tend to take place when the Big Nurse and orderlies arent around, and Chief has nothing to be afraid of. Two examples of these events are on the fishing trip, and at the end of the novel, when Chief suffocates McMurphy and escapes the ward. Both of these instances help the reader to believe that the entire novel is not one large hallucination.

Even though, quite possibly the largest question that is asked throughout the entirety of One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest is left unanswered, there are certain parts of the novel that can help to prove that Chiefs entire story is not all in his head. There are definitely times in which you can tell that Chief is having a Schizophrenic episode, but there are also times in which everything around him seems to be going as normal as any situation on a mental ward could go.

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