I’ve been making a lot of progress in my book! I’m currently reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey (check out the post before this for my initial reactions and a brief plot outline). Right now, what’s really interesting to me is Kesey’s choice for the point of view. The entire story is told through the perspective of Chief, the silent observer in the mental ward. Chief is thought to be deaf and mute, but he is much more intelligent than he lets on to be. While his interactions with other patients are at a minimum, he seems to know so much about them just from watching and listening to them. Kesey could have easily chosen to tell the story through the perspective of someone like McMurphy or Nurse Ratched, both of whom seem to be much more central characters to the overall plot, or he could have simply chosen to use third person perspective. However, the element of Chief’s first person narration is crucial to the story. He is able to provide crucial insight into the happenings of the psychiatric facility through his detailed observations, and he also provides direct insight on the mental illness he battles. While his reliability as a narrator is often blurred by his hallucinations and extreme anxiety, these also expand on the emotions and experiences he has as a psychiatric patient. Chief is even able to acknowledge his own instabilities as he tells the story, saying, “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.” Essentially what Chief is saying is that the occurrences in that psychiatric facility are unbelievably terrible, and that in Chief’s mind, every word of the story is true. While there is no way to tell what is and isn’t Chief’s imagination, the purpose is that we see the story as Chief has seen it, because to him, it is the truth.
Another aspect of this novel that I thoroughly enjoy is Kesey’s use of symbolism. One of the most pertinent symbols to me so far has been the fog machine. Chief has recurring images of fog overtaking the ward, and he is convinced that the staff has put fog machines in the vents. This is clearly a hallucination for Chief, as he only sees the fog in times of great paranoia or when he has not taken his medication, but it is representative of the effects of the psychiatric ward as a whole. It is apparent through the unethical practices of the facility (they use electric shock therapy, and patients are pitted against each other, creating distrust) that the patients are meant to succumb to the processes and have their minds molded like play dough as fit for the desired of Nurse Ratched. This is why, although sometimes it is scary, Chief finds some comfort in the fog, allowing it to take over him. he gives into the methods and processes designed to overtake his mind and make him more like the “vegetables”: numb and without free thought. Chief has grown accustomed to the system of the facility, seeping further and further into the metaphorical fog. That is, until McMurphy arrives and shakes everything up. His presence inspires new thought and questioning the authority figures in the ward. The patients no longer feel that they must simply give in to what Nurse Ratched wants them to do, but rather they can fight to maintain their individuality. This unique and insightful manner of presenting Chief’s stances on the system Nurse Ratched has set up through the symbolism of the fog give such a deeper explanation of Chief’s feelings while also giving insight on how he interprets situations with his mental illness. Overall, the symbolism adds depth and meaning to the hierarchy of the facility as well as what’s going on inside Chief’s head.