Imagery in the Cuckoo’s Nest – The Combine

This post will look at imagery in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest and the Combine in particular. The Combine is used by the Chief to represent the repressive forces of society that mows down the individual.  Throughout the novel there are references to the Combine, starting from page one and continuing until the last one.

The Combine is depicted by the Chief as a machine in which all parts are interrelated because they depend on each other for the machine to run smoothly they must all be programmed in the same way. The Chief can see the Combine working and he can feel it, he sees the identical suburbs and school uniforms in society as the way that mass-produced people can be created. In the Chief’s view you can avoid the “clutch of the Combine” if you can escape its training methods and not get caught.  The Chief recognises the potential of the Combine to mow down and mould a man into what it wishes him to be; he even tells McMurphy about its existence and power.  He warns McMurphy that the Combine cannot let a man as big and as powerful as McMurphy exists unless he is on society’s repressive side.  The Chief knows that if McMurphy is opposed to the Combine, it will try to cut him down to size.

Chief Bromden believes that the Combine starts to work on people when they are young.  He believes it was the Combine that came and took away his tribe’s land and his made his father useless.  Bromden’s father had been a respected Chief and he was a big man but the Combine took away his size and made him so miserable that he became an alcoholic.

Nurse Ratched is the perfect representative of the Combine.  She runs the ward with extreme efficiency and she has an extremely loyal staff. The ward is a microcosm of the larger society and they both run with machine like precision. Everything that happens is precisely scheduled according to Ward Policy. To the Chief, Ratched is big and strong and she uses repressive rules to keep the patients in fear and under control.

The human element is completely lacking, it is geared to satisfy the demands of the Combine, not the development of the individual. As McMurphy says, “Hooee, the Chinese Commies could have learned a few things from you, lady.” When McMurphy fights Nurse Ratched, he is really attacking the entire Combine. It his individuality and his ‘size’ that makes the Combine perform a lobotomy on him to keep him repressed and under control. Lobotomy is the final step in dealing with a malfunctioning part at the hospital.

In general terms the Combine can be described with terms such as mechanical, synchonised and mass-produced. Its product is robot like. The Chief uses animal imagery to contrast the Combine and its products. The Chief’s animal imagery stresses the characteristics of animals such as spontaneity, sensitivity and responsiveness. These characteristics are ones that humans have naturally and are usually developed as a person becomes an individual. If they are repressed a person becomes robotic.


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