'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' Characters

The characters of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest consist of patients at an Oregon-based psychiatric hospital, its staff, and a few other characters in the same orbit. 

Randle Patrick McMurphy

A Korean-War hero, Randle Patrick McMurphy is the protagonist of the novel, and he got himself admitted to the hospital to avoid forced labor. He came from Pendelton Prison Farm, where he somehow managed to get diagnosed as psychotic, despite the fact that he was actually sane. A rebellious, anti-academic manual laborer who engaged in gambling, off-kilter sexual remarks and other antics, he becomes the de facto leader of the patients. He teaches them to question the arbitrary and repressive teachings of Nurse Ratched. He comes to the hospital believing that his stint in the psych ward would be more comfortable than a sentence at the Pendleton Work Farm.

However, despite his self-determination, the hospital actually gains control over him. His fate is foreshadowed by what happens to Maxwell Taber, a former hot-headed patient who was subjected to electroshock treatment, which left him unable to think. 

Nurse Ratched blames the death of one of the inmates on him, and, as a consequence, he attacks her. This results into his getting a lobotomy, and eventually he is killed in his sleep by Chief Bromden. He and Bromden have opposing story arcs: Bromden starts out subdued and apparently stupid, only to then come to his senses; McMurphy, on the other hand, is assertive and smart at the beginning of the novel, but ends up lobotomized and euthanized. 

Chief Bromden

Chief Bromden is the narrator of the novel, a man of mixed Native American and white heritage. Diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, he pretends to be deaf and mute in order to dodge the forces of the “Combine,” a matrix that hums behind the walls and the floors that is set to deprive individuals of their freedom. He has been in the hospital for more than 10 years, longer than any other patient. “It wasn’t me that started acting deaf; it was people that first started acting like I was too dumb to hear or see or say anything at all,” he realizes eventually.

McMurphy rehabilitates him, and, at the end, both of them actively rebel against the hospital’s repressive staff. After Nurse Ratched has McMurphy lobotomized, Chief kills him—actually, euthanizes him— while he is sleeping, and then escapes from the hospital.

Nurse Ratched

Nurse Ratched is the antagonist of the novel. She is a former Army nurse, also known as “Big Nurse,” and has a machine-like demeanor, even though, sometimes, her façade crumbles and she shows her ugly side. 

She is the de facto ruler of the ward, and maintains order by exercising absolute authority over staff and patients. She can act both like an “angel of mercy” and as a torturer, as she knows all of her patients’ weak spots, to the point that she mainly uses shame and guilt to exert her power. 

Her large breasts, somehow, are seen as an undermining force in her pursuit of exerting absolute authority, and give her the appearance of a twisted mother figure. Given that McMurphy represents the epitome of raw maleness, he acts as an opposing force to Nurse Ratched, who feels like she needs to control him. McMurphy compares Nurse Ratched’s techniques with the “brainwashing” antics used by the communists during the Korean War.

Dale Harding

An “acute” patient, he is a college-educated man who committed himself voluntarily to the ward. He is quite effeminate, and has been psychologically castrated both by Nurse Ratched and his wife.

Billy Bibbit

Billy Bibbit is a 31-year-old man with a domineering mother, to the extent that, despite his adult age, he is still a virgin. A voluntarily committed acute, Bibbit manages to lose his virginity to the prostitute Candy Starr (thanks to McMurphy's arrangement). Once caught by nurse Ratched, though, he is shamed by her, and, while waiting in the doctor’s office, he dies by slitting his throat. He has marks on his wrists, denoting previous suicide attempts. 

Cheswick

Cheswick is the first patient who follows McMurphy’s rebellious stance. However, once McMurphy becomes subdued, Cheswick drowns himself when he is denied his cigarettes. 

The Japanese Nurse

One of the nurses in the psychiatric ward, she disagrees with Nurse Ratched’s methods, and is the only female character who is neither a "whore" nor a “ball cutter.” 

Nurse With a Birthmark

She is a frightful, yet attractive young nurse. When McMurphy makes lewd comments directed at her, she retorts by saying she is a Catholic.

Sefelt and Frederickson

Sefelt and Frederickson are two epileptic men in the ward. The former refuses to take the medicine because it causes his gums to rot and his teeth to fall out, while the latter takes double dosage. 

Big George

He is a Scandinavian former seaman whom McMurphy defended when the African American hospital aides were trying to force an enema on him. He is the captain of the boat during the fishing trip the inmates take, which is a pivotal moment in the book.

Doctor Spivey

He is a morphine addict, chosen by Nurse Ratched because he is weak and vulnerable to her exploitations. McMurphy’s behavior eventually encourages him to assert himself against Nurse Ratched. 

The Black Boys 

Their names are Washington, Warren, and Geever. Nurse Ratched chose them as her orderlies for their strength and their hostility. They maintain order in the ward by physically threatening the patients.

Mr. Turkle

Mr. Turkle is an African-American night watchman who is fond of marijuana. Thanks to McMurphy’s bribes, he helps the patients arrange their debaucherous party.

Candy Starr

She is a prostitute from Portland described as having “a heart of gold.” She is both physically attractive and quite passive, and helps Bibbit lose his virginity. She goes to the debaucherous party with her sister, who is older and less attractive than her.