One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Plot Summary
Set in a mental hospital in the 1960's, the novel is the story of Randle Patrick McMurphy, and his attempt to thwart the head of the ward into which he is transferred. The head of the ward is Nurse Ratched, referred to by the patients as the Big Nurse. The story is told in first-person narration through the eyes of Chief Bromden, a six foot two Indian who has pretended for the past thirty years to be deaf and dumb.
When McMurphy arrives at the ward, he immediately sets things on edge, mocking the staff policies and joking with the patients. He reveals himself to be a master gambler, who conned his way into the hospital in an attempt to get an easier sentence. Things are not exactly as he expected, however; the men are shy, frightened mice who can hardly chuckle, and who live in constant terror of the Big Nurse and her indirect attacks. McMurphy makes a bet with them: in one week, he can break down her defenses.
It takes him the whole week, but he manages it; by making fun of her every chance he gets, and going behind her back to get changes made in ward policy. He convinces the men to vote to change the TV viewing time so they can watch the World Series. At first the men are too frightened to go along with it, but he drags them along. When the Big Nurse refuses to accept the vote, he and the rest of the men sit and watch the television anyway, even if it's just a blank screen.
McMurphy holds back on his fights when he learns that the Big Nurse controls when he is released from the hospital. However, he is pulled back in by the suicide of a patient and the needs of the other men. He smashes a fist through the window in the Nurse's station to get at a pack of cigarettes, and when the window is replaced, he smashes it again.
Bromden and McMurphy become friends, and Bromden starts to talk again, almost by accident. McMurphy takes him and a number of the men on a fishing trip, giving them a chance to do things most men take for granted, and their fear starts to go away. However, the Big Nurse tries to chip away at McMurphy's reputation every chance she gets. McMurphy and Bromden are forced into shock therapy after getting into a fight with the black aides.
The men plan an escape for McMurphy, but he sticks around to meet a girl from the outside, who he arranged to meet one of the men, Billy Bibbit. Billy and the girl spend the night together, and when the Big Nurse comes in that morning, she finds the two of them in bed. When she threatens to tell Billy's mother, Billy cuts his throat. McMurphy attacks the Big Nurse, ripping open her shirt and nearly strangling her. He is taken away, and when he returns, he has been lobotomized. He no longer speaks or moves but just lies in bed. Bromden suffocates him with a pillow, then breaks out of the ward, free at last to return to his life.