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Free Study Guide-One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey-Free Notes
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One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest is set in a mental hospital in Oregon. The novel is divided into four parts. Parts One, Two and Four are set in the hospital itself. In Part Three, the patients from the hospital go on a deep-sea fishing trip, and the setting is the boat. Except for a few outsiders, the characters are either patients or employees of the hospital. Kesey has drawn from his own experience to give the reader an insider's view of the hospital.


Major Characters

Randle P. McMurphy

A gambling Irishman and con artist. He is goodlooking, charming, shrewd, tough, and freewheeling. He is tired of weeding peas at the Pendleton Prison Farm; therefore, he feigns insanity and is committed to a mental hospital. He admits that one of the reasons for getting himself committed is to find new people to con in order to make money. At the hospital, he becomes a leader of the patients and a thorn in the side of Nurse Ratched. In the end, she has him lobotomized in order to control him. He dies a martyr when the Chief kills him to spare him from living such a shell of an existence.

Chief Bromden

The narrator of the novel. He is a Colombian Indian, born of a White mother and an Indian father. He was the first patient in the ward, who arrived at the hospital nearly fifteen years earlier. He is a chronic paranoid schizophrenic, diagnosed as incurable and afraid of even his own shadow. Although he is six feet and seven inches tall, he imagines himself to be small and weak; he also pretends to be deaf and mute. In the end he mercifully kills McMurphy and escapes from the hospital.

Nurse Ratched

The 'Big Nurse', who is in charge of the patients on McMurphy's ward . She has, at her service, three well-trained black orderlies, who are at her beck and call. Being a former army nurse, she is very domineering. Although she turns the patients against each other, she succeeds in having the authorities on her side. When she cannot control McMurphy, she has him lobotomized.

Minor Characters

The Ward Boys (Washington , Warren and Geever)

Three black orderlies who have been chosen carefully over the years by Nurse Ratched. She has preyed on their hatred and trained them carefully. They help in keeping the ward organized and under control by passing on most of their menial chores to the chronic patients.

Doctor Spiney

A weak man, who is addicted to morphine. He is dominated and manipulated by Nurse Ratched and afraid to act without her approval.

The Nurse with the Scar

A nurse who is an intimidated, devout Catholic. She is sure that her deformity is a result of being around the patients. She is terrified of McMurphy and feels guilty about her own sexual urges.

Dale Harding

The former president of the patients' council. He relinquishes the position of Chief Bull Goose Looney when McMurphy comes along. He has had himself voluntarily committed because he thinks he is not man enough for his wife, who has psychologically "castrated" him. He has beautiful white hands that he is ashamed of and is somewhat effeminate.

Billy Bibbit

A stammering thirty-one year old man, who is Nurse Ratched's friend. Billy has been virtually castrated by his mother, and the "Big Nurse" acts as a surrogate. He is unsure of himself and always falling in love with women his mother disapproves of.


One of McMurphy's most ardent followers. He drowns himself in the swimming pool after McMurphy starts giving in to Nurse Ratched .

Big George (Rub-A-Dub)

A patient with a morbid fear of dirt. His reluctance to take an enema leads to a fight between McMurphy, the Chief, and the Black orderlies. George is made captain of the Lark when the inmates go on a deep sea fishing trip, and he proves himself worthy of his post.

Seefeld and Frederickson

Two epileptic patients. Seefeld refuses to take his medication for fear of its side effects. He gives them to Frederickson, who willingly takes double doses, for he is afraid of having a fit.


A Chronic who comes in as Acute. He is given an overdose of shock treatment.


A Chronic who comes in as an Acute. He too, is overloaded in the Shock Shop. He remains nailed to the wall and often wets himself as he stands.

Colonel Matterson

The oldest Chronic. He was a cavalry soldier in the first World War. He is permanently confined to a wheelchair and speaks in disconnected metaphors.


A deluded patient who sees things that no one else can.

Old Rawler

An inmate of the disturbed ward who castrates himself and bleeds to death.


One of McMurphy's last supporters. He helps the Chief escape after killing McMurphy.

Tadem, Bancini, Gregory, Taber

Other patients on the ward.

Mr. Turkle

The elderly black night watchman who helps McMurphy after being bribed by him.

The Japanese Nurse

A nurse in the Disturbed ward. She disapproves of the Big Nurse's methods of dealing with the patients.

The lifeguard

A former football player. He tells McMurphy that a patient's release depends on Big Nurse's decision.

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