Structure in Cuckoo’s Nest

The main structural device in the novel is Chief Bromden as the narrator. Obviously Bromden’s mental state is a problem – can we accept his interpretation of events? It is from his point of view that the events of the novel are viewed. In One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest we accept Bromden’s judgement because we are sympathetic to him but he does have mental health issues so he is an untrustworthy narrator.

Bromden is not an omniscient narrator as he does not know the inner thoughts of all of the characters. The fact that he pretends to be deaf and mute allows him into the confidences of members of the hospital staff so that is a device to attain the state of an omniscient narrator. Bromden is actually a limited narrator because his knowledge is limited to the events told in the book – he only knows what he is told, what he senses and what he guesses.

Having the Chief as narrator allows Kesey some freedom in telling the story. The Chief’s mental state is something that allows us to perhaps consider his views on society without feeling too challenged by them. Kesey uses Bromden in this way to make us consider his views.

We as readers have to analyse the Chief’s insight into the Combine and people as individuals. The central conflict of the novel between McMurphy and Nurse Ratched only covers about eight weeks but we also learn about the Chief’s childhood, his early adulthood and army experience as well as his fifteen years at the hospital. The story is told after Bromden has escaped from the hospital but as narrator he can jump from present to the past and back again.

Remember the novel is divided into four numbered parts:

Part One: McMurphy’s admission and the early humorous conflicts with Nurse Ratched.

Part Two: a less light section. McMurphy now knows that he is involved in a serious struggle that he can’t win. His mind is made up and he is prepared to fight. In this part the advantage swings back and forth between Ratched and Mac. Big Nurse loses the battles but she is sure that she will win the war.

Part Three: This is mostly about the fishing trip. Mac is the saviour figure, he “led the twelve toward the ocean” and he now seems determined to win something for the patients.

Part Four: the war enters its final stages and Ratched fights dirty. She can’t beat Mac by conventional means so she destroys him by getting him lobotomised. Her victory can be described as Phyrric.


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