Summary and Characters in One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest

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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest takes place in a mental institution in the Pacific Northwest. The narrator of the novel is Chief Bromden, also known as Chief Broom, a catatonic half-Indian man whom all of the inmates and staff assume is deaf and dumb. Bromden often suffers from hallucinations during which he feels the room filling with a dense, overwhelming fog generated by a huge mechanized matrix called The Combine which controls everyone in its grasp. The institution is dominated by Nurse Ratched (Big Nurse), a cold, precise woman with calculated gestures and a calm, mechanical manner. When the story begins, a new patient, Randall Patrick McMurphy, arrives at the ward. He is a self-professed “gambling fool” who has just come from a work farm at Pendleton as part of his sentence for statutory rape. He clearly is completely sane and lucid, at the hospital only to avoid the work detail. Others on the ward include Dale Harding, the president of the patient's council, and Billy Bibbit, a thirty-year-old who stutters and appears very young. Ratched immediately pegs McMurphy as a manipulator. During the first therapy meeting, Nurse Ratched begins examining Harding's difficulties with his wife. McMurphy takes the opportunity to explain his arrest for statutory rape, suggesting that the girl was of legal age and certainly more than consenting. Dr. Spivey, the main doctor for the ward, questions whether McMurphy is now feigning insanity to get out of doing hard labor at the work farm. Afterward, McMurphy confronts Harding about the way the inmates defer to Ratched so readily. He suggests it is a “pecking-party” in which the patients are to turn on each other. Harding admits that all of the patients and even Dr. Spivey are afraid of the Big Nurse. He adds that the patients are rabbits who cannot adjust to their rabbithood and need Big Nurse to show them their place. McMurphy bets him that he can get Nurse Ratched to crack within a week. McMurphy awakens early the next morning to take a shower. He complains to one of the black boys who serve as Nurse Ratched's henchmen that the patients are only allowed to brush their teeth at certain times. When Ratched arrives, McMurphy stands in front of her in a towel, claiming that his clothes have been taken. He threatens to drop his towel (though he has shorts on). Ratched screams to one of the boys to get McMurphy some new clothes. McMurphy then complains to Ratched about the loud music that constantly plays on the ward, but she refuses to turn it down. He suggests opening the tub room as a game room, but she refuses. At the next group meeting, Dr. Spivey mentions casually that he talked to McMurphy about opening up the tub room as a game room and thinks that it is a great idea. The other inmates ratify the plan while Nurse Ratched's hands begin to shake—her first significant sign of weakness. McMurphy next pushes for a schedule change so the patients can watch the World Series during the day and do their work at night. He attempts to motivate the patients to push for the schedule change, but he becomes angry at them when they act too “chicken-shit” and refuse to oppose Ratched. Billy Bibbit tells McMurphy that nothing he can do will be of any use in the long run, but McMurphy boasts that he will break out of the institution by lifting up the control panel in the tub room and throwing it through the window. The patients gradually grow more assertive in their opposition to the boys and to Ratched. At another group meeting, after Billy discusses his stutter and having proposed to a woman his mother disliked, McMurphy brings up the World Series again. Ratched finally allows a vote. All twenty Acute patients vote for his idea, but Ratched declares it a defeat, for none of the Chronics have had the ability to vote. McMurphy finally motivates Chief Bromden to vote for him, but Ratched says it is too late and the vote is over. As a protest, McMurphy refuses to work and sits down in front of the...
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