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How Chief Broom Explains Politics

With Help From Ken Kesey.

Young Writer Ken Kesey via

Young Writer Ken Kesey

Every baby boomer born finds emotional relief in Beatles lyrics.

It comes with the territory.

You find yourself in times of trouble, then what? Do you let it be?

Boomerpdx says consult the classics.

Start with One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.

Oregon’s Ken Kesey explains modern life as a universal struggle.

Kesey was a man in his twenties opening closed doors in 1964. Setting a death match for social change inside an insane asylum does that.

Re-reading his first book in 2013 opens the same doors. It doesn’t take four way blotter to see the comparisons.

Keep in mind, the movie’s main character became Randall P. McMurphy. In the book it’s Chief Broom.

The interior monologue of a Columbia Indian who’s supposed to be deaf and mute plays well today.

He see’s fog rolling in, electronics in the walls, machines installed in his brain while he sleeps. But he is silent.

Is this literature or an NSA report?

The way Kesey balances Big Nurse and Chief Broom in the beginning describes a power structure bound to fail. But how?

Big Nurse carries the biggest stick. If patients don’t cooperate, she transfers them to a harder life. The same with the aides.

Doctors who cross her find themselves in front of the medical supervisor, one of Big Nurse’s friends from WWII.

They transfer, too.

Chief sees it all and lets it float in the fog. He says he’s cagey. Pretending to be deaf and mute is his cloak of invisibility. At six feet eight inches, it’s a big cloak.

In the beginning expectations are low. Patients listen to the key in the lock before someone opens the door. They know all the usual sounds. Call it insane or mundane.

In a world of punch-the-clock control, Big Nurse keeps time.

Kesey doesn’t put Chief Broom on a quest in the beginning. He’s a witness who reflects on the world inside and outside the asylum.

He calls it The Combine. Once The Combine gets a hook in you, you’re trapped into following orders, living conventionally, maybe dying a little every day. Chief gets there first by dying a little more every day for not getting hooked.

He dreams of his dad, remembers life outside, but sees the fog roll in with the effort. Because he’s a long-term mental patient unable to respond, he gets special bad treatment by staff.

Because he’s an unreliable narrator, you read along with doubts.

How does Chief Broom explain politics?

He’s the biggest, strongest, and the weakest.

He has cultural visions and secrets.

Chief Broom is the battlefield between Big Nurse and her power structure, versus the new man McMurphy with his.

If the movie is your reference, it’s not the same McMurphy. Kesey’s McMurphy is a big, strong, red-headed Marine, a Korean War vet who escaped from a Chinese prison camp. He’s a ginger with tufts of red popping up everywhere. He arrived in the asylum from a prison forest camp for better gambling marks.

And he might be a psychopath.

By the time McMurphy shows up Chief Broom has already painted Big Nurse with that brush.

In terms of leadership you have to make a choice. Work to change The Combine, or give up and shut it down?

How’s it gone so far? Further enough?



About David Gillaspie
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