One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

by: Ken Kesey

Chief Bromden Quotes

Quotes Chief Bromden Quotes
They don’t bother not talking out loud about their hate secrets when I’m nearby because they think I’m deaf and dumb. Everybody think so. I’m cagey enough to fool them that much. If my being half Indian ever helped me in any way in this dirty life, it helped me being cagey, helped me all these years.

Bromden admits that he pretends to be deaf and dumb, revealing his cleverness to successfully get away with this trickery. His subterfuge reflects dual sides of sanity. While it might seem insane to pretend to be deaf and dumb, Bromden does benefit. He gains freedom since no one expects normal behavior from him, and his “condition” makes him privy to secrets.

You had a choice: you could either strain and look at things that appeared in front of you in the fog, painful as it might be, or you could relax and lose yourself.

Fighting in wartime, Bromden navigated the fog that was used as a military tactic, and here he applies the valuable lesson he learned. Either fight to see clearly in the fog and experience effort and risk, or give yourself up to the fog and embrace complacency and safety. Here, Bromden reveals that on the ward, he chooses the latter. For Bromden, the fog represents his escape from the reality of the ward around him.

No. That’s not the truth. I lifted it myself.

Bromden decides to vote with the men to watch the World Series on TV. At first, Bromden pretends that McMurphy made him vote by using wires, but he knows that he voted himself and admits the same here. For Bromden, raising his hand constitutes a significant change. He never before participated in any of the ward activities, instead content to hide behind his silence. This choice represents the first step to Bromden becoming part of the ward community and finding himself.

The staff always let me clean the room because they didn’t think I could hear, but now that they saw me lift my hand when McMurphy told me to, won’t they know I can hear? Won’t they figure I been hearing all these years, listening to secrets meant only for their ears? What’ll they do to me in that staff room if they know that?

After his vote on the TV schedule, Bromden fears that he has blown his secret and alerted the staff that he can hear. His fear that they will retaliate against him for deceiving them proves unfounded, however. The hospital staff continues to ignore Bromden just like they always have done. To them, Bromden exists as barely a person, certainly not one worthy of any note or speculation.

I used to be real brave around water when I was a kid on the Columbia; I’d walk the scaffolding around the falls with all the other men, scrambling making rainbows, without even any hobnails like the men wore. But when I saw my Papa started getting scared of things, I got scared too, got so I couldn’t even stand a shallow pool.

In this memory, Bromden recalls that his father lost his bravery, and whatever happened to Papa was significant enough to have an impact on Bromden, who became fearful too. Bromden’s past relates to his present in which he chooses to remain hidden—in the fog, in the hospital, in his own silence. Bromden still grapples with the fear that took hold of him as a child and drives him to lead a constrained life.

I lay in bed the night before the fishing trip and thought it over, about my being deaf, about the years of not letting on. I heard what was said, and I wondered if I could ever act any other way again. But I remembered one thing: it wasn’t me that started acting deaf; it was people that first started acting like I was too dumb to hear or see or say anything at all.

Here, Bromden explains that acting deaf and dumb stems not just from his experiences on the ward but from his experiences in life. Bromden felt belittled since he was ten years old, when the white people who wanted the Indians’ land treated him as if he didn’t exist. Since then, experiences in school and the army reinforced that belief to such an extent that Bromden adopted the persona of an invisible person.

It’d been a long time since I’d let anyone hear me do any more than grunt or bellow.

Bromden reveals that after McMurphy breaks Nurse Ratched’s window, something breaks inside of himself too, and he finds his voice. McMurphy’s rebellion triggers memories of Bromden’s past and the events that led his father to give up and Bromden to become invisible. The process of remembering this period combined with McMurphy’s insistence that Bromden be seen allows Bromden to free himself from his self-inflicted prison. Bromden looks to McMurphy to serve as a role model and starts to reinvent himself.

I noticed vaguely that I was getting so’s I could see some good in the life around me. McMurphy was teaching me. I was feeling better than I’d remembered feeling since I was a kid, when everything was good and the land was still singing kid’s poetry to me.

After the fishing trip, Bromden experiences a moment of self-reflection and realizes how much his environment and own frame of mind have improved since McMurphy arrived at the ward. McMurphy’s energy, strength, and gusto for life rubbed off on Bromden, waking him from his ten-year fog and reminding him that in his past, he, too, had the capacity for the pure joy of childhood.

I had to keep reminding myself that it had truly happened, that we had made it happen.

During the ward party, Bromden takes pride in being part of the illicit evening and later must remind himself that the party was real. In light of such an extreme transgression, Bromden realizes that he possesses agency and can create his own surroundings. If he can break one rule, he knows that he can break more in the future, and maybe even stand up to the Combine. The satisfaction he feels at his role also gives him the courage to contemplate future challenges against the hospital.

I’ve given what happened next a good lot of thought, and I’ve come around to thinking it was bound to be and would have happened in one way or another, at this time or that, even if Mr. Turkle had got McMurphy and the two girls up and off the ward like was planned.

Bromden knows that McMurphy could have escaped before being caught after the party and needs to come to terms with the lobotomy, so here he decides that McMurphy’s end was fated. Bromden could be justifying what happened since McMurphy was so close to freedom, but Bromden’s rationale also reveals McMurphy’s powerful leadership. McMurphy takes responsibility for the ward and shows the men how to beat Nurse Ratched and gain self-confidence.