Metaphor and Mind Style in Ken Kesey's One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest

By Semino, Elena; Swindlehurst, Kate | Style, Spring 1996 | Go to article overview

Metaphor and Mind Style in Ken Kesey's One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest


Semino, Elena, Swindlehurst, Kate, Style


1. INTRODUCTION

Roger Fowler coined the term "mind style" in 1977 to describe the phenomenon in which the language of a text projects a characteristic world view, a particular way of perceiving and making sense of the world. In William Golding's The Inheritors, for example, the reader must contend with the peculiar mind style of Lok, the Neanderthal man whose point of view is privileged in the first and longest part of the novel. Lok appears to have little understanding of human agency and of cause-and-effect relationships, and he seems to believe that inanimate entities are capable of volition and deliberate actions. An analysis of the language of the novel reveals that such impressions can be traced to the text's unusual shortage of transitive constructions with animate subjects and to its frequency of inanimate nouns (such as "bushes" and "log") serving as subjects of verbs that normally require an animate agent (such as "twitch" and "go") (Halliday; Fowler, Linguistics and the Novel 104-06; Leech and Short 31-36 et passim).

Fowler's work and others' subsequent studies have isolated a range of linguistic phenomena that can contribute to the projection of mind style, including primarily choices of vocabulary, grammar, and transitivity (Fowler, Linguistics and the Novel, Linguistics Criticism; Leech and Short; Bockting Character and Personality, "Mind Style"). In this essay we highlight the way in which metaphorical patterns can also be instrumental in the creation of mind style (see also Black). Our discussion focuses particularly on the mind style of the narrator in Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and builds on the cognitive approaches to the study of metaphor developed by George Lakoff and others over the last two decades (Lakoff and Johnson; Johnson; Lakoff and Turner).

In the first part of the essay we outline the theoretical background to our claim that the notion of mind style and the cognitive theory of metaphor can be usefully combined. We then discuss the way in which Kesey exploits metaphor in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest to convey the narrator's idiosyncratic view of the world and his progress towards mental and physical liberation.

2. MIND STYLE

In a recent article, Ineke Bockting offers the following definition of mind style:

Mind style is concerned with the construction and expression in language of the conceptualisation of reality in a particular mind. ("Mind Style" 159)

This definition rests on two central assumptions. The first is that what we call "reality" is the result of perceptual and cognitive processes that may vary in part from person to person; thus individuals may differ in their conceptualizations of the same experience: for example, in how they identify people and entities, in how they attribute agency, responsibility, and goals, in how they establish temporal and causal relationships, and so on. The second assumption is that language is a central part of the process by which we make sense of the world around us; thus the texts we produce reflect our particular way of conceptualizing reality.

The study of mind style therefore involves the identification of linguistic patterns that account for the perception of a distinct world view during the reading of a text. The notion of "patterns" is particularly important here. Mind style arises from the frequent and consistent occurrence of particular linguistic choices and structures within a text. As Fowler puts it:

Cumulatively, consistent structural options, agreeing in cutting the presented world to one pattern or another, give rise to an impression of a world-view, what I shall call a "mind style." (Linguistics and the Novel 76)

In some cases, such consistent choices may be so unconventional that the result is a puzzlingly opaque account of what turns out to be a fairly ordinary and familiar event. Such is often the case in the part of The Inheritors that reflects Lok's mind style as well as in the section of Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury narrated by Benjy, a mentally retarded thirty-three-year-old.

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