They are unable to fit well into the rigid rules and standards of society, and are incapable of dealing with society pressures forcing them to take refuge in the mental ward. Dale Harding is an intelligent, middle aged married man, who voluntarily stays at the mental institution. He knows that he and the other men are in there because they cannot alter themselves to be what society wants, “all of us here are rabbits or varying degrees, happily-hopping through our Walt Disney world. Oh, don’t misunderstand me, we’re not in here because we are rabbits… ‘re all in here because we can’t adjust to our rabbit hood” (Keyes 64). Harding finds it very difficult to live in the outside world because he poses characteristics that question his sexuality, which society does not condone. Keyes uses Hoarding’s hands to show his feminine qualities, which illustrate his homosexuality “sometimes they get loose and glide around in front of him free as two white birds until he notices them and traps them between his knees; it bothers him that he’s got pretty hands” (18). Harding is embarrassed and ashamed of his womanly hands and gestures.
He is a man, who in society’s eyes is suppose to have hard, rough, masculine hands. Harding has to hide his homosexual urges because in the time period he lived in; the world around him sees such acts as unacceptable and such like a mental disease, “society is what decides who’s sane and who isn’t” (49). He is Judged harshly by society because he is unable to satisfy his wife sexually, which people see as something being wrong with him. “l indulged in certain practices that our society regards as shameful,” (307) Harding has to hide his true self and feelings.
When asked about why he stays on the ward when he could be free to live his life, Harding simply says “Guilt. Shame. Fear. Self-belittlement. I discovered at an early age that I was-shall we be kind and say different” (307). Harding cannot handle the “feeling that the great, deadly pointing forefinger of society was pointing at him-and the great voice of millions chanting, ‘Shame. Shame. Shame. ‘ It’s society’s way of dealing with someone different” (308). Throughout the novel Harding shows no signs of true mental disorder or physical disabilities. His only problem is that he Anton face his insecurities and confront society.
His different views and feelings cause him to escape from society into the ward. Society forces him in there, “societies chastising drive people crazy’ (308). Chief Broaden is a Native American man who has been at the mental ward longer than anyone else. He is also the narrator of the novel. Chief suffers from schizophrenia. He sees everything as a machine; the world and society as a combine. Chief also realizes the oppressive force society has on them. He sees that society truly believes they are ill men that need to be institutionalized and made better “They work on you in ways you can’t fight back!
They put things in! They install things! Installing their filthy machinery, till you’re fixed” (221). He knows that he must hide his true identity to be safe against the outside world that believes Indians are uncivilized. Everyone around him thinks he is deaf, dumb, and mute because he has never spoken while in the institute. He fakes all of it, “l had to keep on acting deaf if I wanted to hear at all” (209). Keyes points out that society looks at Native Americans as animals that need to be corrected, it leads o Chief being put in the institution.
Chief struggles in the institution against the Nurse Ratchet who is also seen as part of the problem because of her oppressiveness “l realized a long time back. That’s it’s not Just the Big Nurse by herself, but it’s the whole Combine, the nationwide Combine that’s really the big force” (192). The men are being forced to conform to society. Billy Bit a man whose only known problem is that he stutters is forced into the institute by his fear of the general publics view of him. Society sees his stuttering as a mental problem.
He does to stay there because he likes it, but because he feels too small and weak against society. He cannot take people laughing at him and thinking that everything is wrong with him. “If only I had the guts,” (195) Billy cannot leave because of his fear of rejection in his society. The patients of the mental ward are victims of matriarchy. Nurse Ratchet, the head nurse, uses intimidation to take power away from the men, making it easy to control them. She is characterized as a “ball breaker” (51). Instead of treating and rehabilitating the men, she manipulates them and emasculates them.
One of Nurse Ratchet’s methods of helping the men is a therapy session in which all the men gather in a circle and talk about each others problems. It is supposed to be therapeutic but instead it does more harm to the men. Randall McCarthy, a new member to the ward describes the group session as a “bunch of chickens at a pecking’ party’ (132). Keyes uses chickens as a example of how the nurse uses her power to turn the men against each other, “The flock gets sight of a spot of blood on some chicken and they all go to pecking’ at it, see, till they rip the chicken to shreds, blood ND bone and feathers.
But usually a couple of the flock gets spotted in fracas, then it’s their turn, And a few more gets spots and gets pecked to death, and more and more” (132). She makes the men shame and betray each other, which she uses to gain control and get them to obey. She threatens them by telling them to cooperate or they’ll end up “on the chronic side” (8). Nurse Ratchet exploits their weaknesses instead of helping them “a good many of you are in here because you could not adjust to the rules of society in the Outside World, because you refused to face up to hem, because you tried to circumvent them and avoid the” (199).
The nurse uses other methods such as electroshock therapy and pills to get the men to do as she says. She also wants to have control and undermine the men. The electroshock therapy is an outdated treatment she uses for patients who threaten her authority. Nurse Ratchet also uses pills that have side effects such as memory loss. She hands out the pills so that the men forget and are too fogged out to do anything. The only real cure the men on the ward get is when McCarthy is committed into the ward. He makes them see that they are well and not sick.
For the first times in years the man laugh. He pulls them out of their drugged out minds “that big red hand of Musher’s is reaching into the fog and dropping down and dragging the men up by their hands, dragging them blinking into the open” (140). He helps them get out of the zombie like state that they are in “and I was seeing sharp and high- pitched too, everything was sharp and clear and solid like I forgot it could be” (198). McCarthy helped them fight against the Nurse and society “it’s fogging a little, but I onto slip off and hide in it.
No… Never again” (287). He made them want to live their lives instead of being fogged up and unable to do anything “l worked at it. I’d never worked at coming out of it before” (288). McCarthy gave them strength to believe that “maybe the Combine wasn’t all-powerful” (305). He gave the men freedom by making the nurse let them play cards in the tub room and showing them how to play basketball. He pulled me out of their daze and showed them they had a voice. He made the men believe they were normal and gave them their lives back.