narrator of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Bromden is the son of the chief of the Columbia Indians and a white
woman. He suffers from paranoia and hallucinations, has received
multiple electroshock treatments, and has been in the hospital for
ten years, longer than any other patient in the ward. Bromden sees
modern society as a huge, oppressive conglomeration that he calls
the Combine and the hospital as a place meant to fix people who
do not conform. Bromden chronicles the story of the mental ward
while developing his perceptual abilities and regaining a sense
of himself as an individual.
in-depth analysis of Chief Bromden.
The novel’s protagonist. Randle McMurphy is a big,
redheaded gambler, a con man, and a backroom boxer. His body is
heavily scarred and tattooed, and he has a fresh scar across the
bridge of his nose. He was sentenced to six months at a prison work
farm, and when he was diagnosed as a psychopath—for “too much fighting
and fucking”—he did not protest because he thought the hospital
would be more comfortable than the work farm. McMurphy serves as the
unlikely Christ figure in the novel—the dominant force challenging
the establishment and the ultimate savior of the victimized patients.
in-depth analysis of Randle McMurphy.
head of the hospital ward. Nurse Ratched, the novel’s antagonist,
is a middle-aged former army nurse. She rules her ward with an iron
hand and masks her humanity and femininity behind a stiff, patronizing facade.
She selects her staff for their submissiveness, and she weakens
her patients through a psychologically manipulative program designed
to destroy their self-esteem. Ratched’s emasculating, mechanical
ways slowly drain all traces of humanity from her patients.
in-depth analysis of Nurse Ratched.
acerbic, college-educated patient and president of the Patients’
Council. Harding helps McMurphy understand the realities of the
hospital. Although he is married, Harding is a homosexual. He has
difficulty dealing with the overwhelming social prejudice against homosexuals,
so he hides in the hospital voluntarily. Harding’s development and
the reemergence of his individual self signal the success of McMurphy’s
battle against Ratched, especially when Harding checks himself out
of the ward and paves the way for the other cured patients to leave.
shy patient. Billy has a bad stutter and seems much younger than
his thirty-one years. Billy Bibbit is dominated by his mother, one
of Nurse Ratched’s close friends. Billy is voluntarily in the hospital,
as he is afraid of the outside world.
mild-mannered doctor who may be addicted to opiates. Nurse Ratched
chose Doctor Spivey as the doctor for her ward because he is as
easily cowed and dominated as the patients. With McMurphy’s arrival, he,
like the patients, begins to assert himself. He often supports McMurphy’s
unusual plans for the ward, such as holding a carnival.
The first patient to support McMurphy’s rebellion
against Nurse Ratched’s power. Cheswick, a man of much talk and
little action, drowns in the pool—possibly a suicide—after McMurphy
does not support Cheswick when Cheswick takes a stand against Nurse
Ratched. Cheswick’s death is significant in that it awakens McMurphy
to the extent of his influence and the mistake of his decision to
Warren, Washington, Williams, and Geever
Hospital aides. Warren, Washington, and Williams
are Nurse Ratched’s daytime aides; Geever is the nighttime aide. Nurse
Ratched hired them because they are filled with hatred and will
submit to her wishes completely.
beautiful, carefree prostitute from Portland. Candy Starr accompanies
McMurphy and the other patients on the fishing trip, and then comes
to the ward for a late-night party that McMurphy arranges.
A hospital patient, a big Swede, and a former seaman.
McMurphy recruits George Sorenson to be captain for the fishing
excursion. He is nicknamed “Rub-a-Dub George” by the aides because
he has an intense phobia toward dirtiness. McMurphy’s defense of
George leads McMurphy to his first electroshock treatment.
hospital patient who suffered brain damage when he was born. Pete
Bancini continually declares that he is tired, and at one point
he tells the other patients that he was born dead.
hospital patient. Martini lives in a world of delusional hallucinations,
but McMurphy includes him in the board and card games with the other
patient who is a vegetable. Bromden has a prophetic dream about
a mechanical slaughterhouse in which Old Blastic is murdered. He
wakes up to discover that Old Blastic died in the night.
patient who was once an Acute. Ellis’s excessive electroshock therapy
transformed him into a Chronic. In the daytime, he is nailed to
the wall. He frequently urinates on himself.
patient and a former football player. The lifeguard was committed
to the ward eight years ago. He often experiences hallucinations.
The lifeguard reveals a key fact to McMurphy—that committed patients
can leave only when Nurse Ratched permits—which changes McMurphy’s
initial rebelliousness into temporary conformity.
A prostitute who knows McMurphy.
Chronic patient. Ruckly, like Ellis, was once an Acute, but was
transformed into a Chronic due to a botched lobotomy.
only Acute besides McMurphy who was involuntarily committed to the
hospital. Scanlon has fantasies of blowing things up.
Sefelt and Frederickson
Epileptic patients. Sefelt hates to take his medications
because they make his teeth fall out, so he gives them to Frederickson,
who likes to take Sefelt’s dose in addition to his own. Although
Sefelt and Frederickson require more medical care than some of the
other nonmedicated patients, they still do not receive much care
or attention by the staff, who are much more concerned with making
the disorderly patients orderly.
black nighttime orderly for Nurse Ratched’s ward. Mr. Turkle is
kind to Bromden, untying the sheets that confine him to his bed
at night, and he goes along with the nighttime ward party.
former patient who stayed in Nurse Ratched’s ward before McMurphy
arrived. When Maxwell Taber questioned the nurse’s authority, she
punished him with electroshock therapy. After the treatments made
him completely docile, he was allowed to leave the hospital. He
is considered a successful cure by the hospital staff.
Chief Tee Ah Millatoona
Chief Bromden’s father, also known as The Pine That
Stands Tallest on the Mountain, is chief of the Columbia Indians.
He married a Caucasian woman and took her last name. She made him
feel small and drove him to alcoholism. The chief’s marriage and
submission to a white woman makes an important statement about the
oppression of the natural order by modern society and also reflects
white society’s encroachment on Native Americans.
A fat, bald bureaucrat who wears a girdle. Public Relation
leads tours of the ward, pointing out that it is nice and pleasant.
strict Catholic with a prominent birthmark on her face that she
attempts to scrub away. Nurse Pilbow is afraid of the patients’
patient on the Disturbed ward. Rawler commits suicide by cutting
off his testicles. This actual castration symbolizes the psychological
emasculation to which the patients are routinely subjected.