Characterization of the Chief in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest: What is his background? How is this significant? What has led to him being in the asylum? (Please provide key incidents and moments...

Characterization of the Chief in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest: What is his background? How is this significant? What has led to him being in the asylum?

(Please provide key incidents and moments as well as quotes)

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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As the narrator of the novel, Chief Bromden, called "Chief Broom" by the orderlies, is the observer and guide of the mental asylum because he hears and sees things the other inmates do not since the staff think he is deaf. He has come to the institution as a result of paranoia, but the cause is ambiguous; he may have suffered from the horrors of being in the army in World War II, or he may have withdrawn from witnessing his father's breakdown. After arriving there, he has had numerous shock therapies.

It is in Part III that the reader learns of the Chief's personal history: His father was Chief Tee Ah Millatoona, which means "The Pine That Stands Tallest on the Mountain," and his mother a white woman, named Mary Louise Bromden. When the officials came to his home in Oregon in order to view the area where they wanted to build a hydroelectric dam, the men act as though the boy cannot understand English and derogate his home and its surroundings. After the Chief speaks to them in his best English, they continue to ignore him:

...I can see...the apparatus inside them take the words I just said and try to fit the words in here and there,...and when they find the words don't have any place ready-made where they'll fit, the machinery disposes of the words like they weren't even spoken.

Even when he was in the army, the Chief notices that the officers ignore him and talk over him. He also recalls how his father had taken his wife's last name, and having learned that the chief was married to a white woman, the officials decide to deal with her. After this happens, his father resists, but the Combine worked on his for years, cutting his hair and beating him up, Chief recalls. All this caused his father to "shrink" and become an alcoholic; consequently, Bromden grows up in the shadow of his mother whose act of betrayal in selling of the tribal lands causes the Chief to further perceive his repression in life as a conflict of machinery in the metaphor of "the Combine." 

Because few have listened to him in his life, the Chief feigns deafness; and, since he is believed to be deaf and dumb, the orderlies around him speak their words of hate for Nurse Ratched without worry. Like his father before him, the Chief has shrunken and thinks of himself as small until McMurphy talks with him and assures him that he is huge and capable of picking up the control panel which no one else could possibly do. It is the hope that McMurphy instills in the Chief that brings him out of his "fog" and he takes an interest in life, desiring to go on the fishing trip. McMurphy promises to sign him up, telling him,

"Oh man, I tell you...you'll have women trippin' you and beatin' you to the floor...Look there....You growed a half a foot already."

Finally, McMurphy has instilled enough confidence in the Chief that he is able to make his escape after freeing McMurphy's spirit from its lobotomized body. With his massive strength, the Chief rips the control panel out of the floor, hurling it through the window, destroying "the Combine."

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