Notes on Characters from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Major Characters

Chief Bromden: The novel’s narrator, a large Indian who pretends to be deaf and dumb. He’s done it so well that no one suspects it’s an act until McMurphy arrives on the ward. Bromden comes from a reservation in Canada, which was headed by his father. This is why he’s called chief. The government eventually bought out the reservation so it could install a hydroelectric dam. The Chief played football in high school, and was in the army for a period of time. His exact type of mental illness is never diagnosed (possibly paranoid schizophrenia), but he tends to see things in terms of literal metaphors. For example, when someone gets mad or does something strong, their size increases. When he sinks into a mental stupor in order to escape from the real world, he sees it as being lost in a fog that the Big Nurse creates with a machine in the nurses’ station. By the end of the novel, however, McMurphy has brought him back to himself, and taught him how to be strong. He stops pretending to be deaf and starts speaking; he even fights alongside McMurphy. When McMurphy is brought back lobotomized, Bromden suffocates him, because the real McMurphy is no longer alive. He then escapes the ward and goes to back to visit the reservation.

The Black Aides: Their names are Washington, Warren, and Williams, but they are hardly ever referred to in the text as individuals. In describing them, the author implies that they were all taken from the same mold. The Big Nurse picks them for her ward because of how much they hate, and she trains them to use this hate in keeping the ward running smoothly. They make fun of the men whenever they can, especially Bromden because he is deaf and dumb and can’t hear what they’re saying.

The Big Nurse: Also known as Nurse Ratched. She runs the ward, as has been doing so longer than anyone can remember, even before Chief Bromden came, and she is obsessed with keeping things as neat and efficient as possible. She is a doll-faced woman, prim and proper on the outside. Her only distinguishing quality is a pair of large breasts, a badge of femininity that seems out of place on her. The Big Nurse is close to the head of the hospital. As a result, it is virtually impossible to get her fired. She uses guilt, manipulation, and disapproval to keep the men in line. When they turn violent, she sends them for shock treatment, and occasional lobotomies.

Randle Patrick McMurphy: The hero of the novel, a rowdy, lusty, powerful man. He fakes insanity in order to be committed to the ward, to have an easier time of things. McMurphy is an accomplished gambler and con man who has been in and out of jails all his life. Once in the ward, he takes to playing practical jokes and trying to upset the routine. At first he does this to win bets with the men, but gradually he gets drawn into fighting for them; mainly because they don’t have the strength to fight for themselves. His fight is directed at the Big Nurse, and in the end he attacks her physically. The Nurse sends him away and they lobotomize him before bringing him back to the ward, in effect killing him.

Billy Bibbit: A young man with a stutter who lives in fear of his mother. He looks just like a little kid, but he’s somewhere in his thirties. He’s shy around women, and loses his virginity to Candy, a friend of McMurphy’s. His mother and Nurse Ratched are close, and she keeps tabs on him through the nurse. Billy lives in terror of disappointing her, and she treats him like a five-year-old. He slashes his throat at the end of the book in order to avoid her disapproval of him.

Harding: An effeminate man with beautiful, dancing hands. He speaks eloquently and sarcastically, and is hounded in group sessions for his feelings of inadequacy with his wife. The other men look up to him because he has a college degree. He hints near the end of the novel that the reason he was driven to the mental hospital was that he indulged in certain activities on which society frowns. When one takes into account his manner and his worries of sexual incompetence with his beautiful wife, it seems as if the author is implying that Harding is homosexual.

Minor Characters

Taber: Taber is a foreshadowing of McMurphy. He, too, raised a fuss when he was in the ward, going so far as to ask what medication he was taking. His eventual fate also foreshadows McMurphy’s: he is lobotomized.

Pete Bancini: When he was born, the doctor used a pair of forceps to remove him from his mother. The forceps were pressed too hard into his temples, leaving him permanently brain-damaged. He has difficulty with tasks that a five-year-old could perform easily, and spends most of his life working at a railway station throwing a switch.

Doctor Spivey: The doctor who works at the ward. He is just as afraid of Nurse Ratched as the rest of the patients, and takes almost all of his cues from her. It takes McMurphy’s influence to give him a little backbone.

Charles Cheswick: One of the Acutes, who is always looking for someone to back up his ideas. He is one of the first patients to fall in behind McMurphy, and he always supports him. When McMurphy stops fighting for a while, Cheswick commits suicide.

Mr. Turkel: The night aide, and the only sympathetic black character in the novel. He is bribed near the end of the book into letting McMurphy’s female friends into the ward.

Sefelt: An epileptic. He gives his medication to Fredrickson because he doesn’t want the side effect (it makes your teeth fall out), and he thinks it also does something to your hair. He is especially conscious about his looks.

Fredrickson: Another epileptic. He takes two doses of medication, his and Sefelt’s, because he is extremely terrified of seizures.

George: An Acute with a neatness compulsion. He goes on the boat trip because he used to sail boats before he hospitalized. When the black aides attack him in the shower room, McMurphy comes to his defense.

Candy: One of McMurphy’s female friends, a whore from Portland. She visits the ward twice, once on the boat trip and once for a date with Billy. Billy loses his virginity to her.

The Japanese Nurse: She runs the Disturbed Ward, and is the only likable female character in the novel who is not a whore. She disapproves of the way the Big Nurse runs things downstairs, but is helpless to do anything about it.

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