How does the Chief feel about the black boys in Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest? How do they feel about Nurse Ratched?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In the same way he distrusts all people, Chief Bromden, narrator of Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, strongly distrusts and dislikes those he calls the "black boys." The three black boys are Nurse Ratched's orderlies. In the opening chapter, the Chief describes them as "sulky and hating everything" as they mop the floor. Later we are informed that Nurse Ratched specifically chooses orderlies based on their feelings of hatred. She wants them full of hatred so that they are fully aligned with her own will, ready to deliver abuses to the patients. The Chief describes how closely aligned the "three black boys" are with Nurse Ratched's will in his following narration:

Years of training, and all three black boys tune in closer and closer with the Big Nurse's frequency ... They are in contact on a high-voltage wave length of hate, and the black boys are out there performing her bidding before she even thinks it. (Ch. 4)

Due to the black boys' hatred and abusiveness, the Chief hates and distrusts the black boys.

The black boys never express any feelings of opposition towards Nurse Ratched; in fact, they never express any feelings at all, except feelings of animosity towards the patients, the same feelings of animosity Nurse Ratched exhibits. Instead, they seem perfectly content to be fully controlled by and aligned with Nurse Ratched. In this sense, the black boys are very symbolic of white oppression and white supremacy in general. The color of their skin coupled with the fact that they are dressed all in white shows they are being consumed by the world of white men, just as they have been consumed by white Nurse Ratched. The fact that they never protest against being consumed shows they, unfortunately, have either no objection to being consumed or no power to prevent it.

ms-mcgregor's profile pic

ms-mcgregor | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The chief does not like the black boys and sees them as extensions of Nurse Ratched. He says that the Big Nurse purposely chose them and trained them so they would follow her orders without question. This seems to be the case because not only do the black boys show disrepect towards the Chief, but they also seem to detest McMurphy as much as the Big Nurse. All four of these characters see that McMurphy is a threat to their total control of the Ward and to their power. Since the Chief, at first, is incapable of taking any action against Nurse Ratched and the black boys, it is up to McMurphy to begin to challenge their behavior and authority.


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