One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Ken Kesey


Ken Kesey wrote this during the 1960’s. Like a bunch of people back then, he consumed a bunch of drugs and traveled all over, exploring and doing naughty things. He was arrested a couple times. All of this had an impact on this novel. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest takes place in Oregon. The title comes from a children’s rhyme: "One flew East, One flew West, One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest." Also, cuckoo means crazy, like the mental patients in this book. Jack Nicholson starred in the film version of this novel.



Randall Patrick McMurphy: He is the main character. When he comes to the mental hospital, he shakes things up. He has lived a normal life being loud and obnoxious, and not taking take crap from anybody. He is a hero to the other crazy patients, because he teaches them how to act sane. He dies in the end.

Chief Bromden: He narrates this book even though he doesn’t talk or interact much with anyone. The only guy who can break him out of his shell is McMurphy. He is in the mental hospital because he thinks machines are out to get him. He is a big guy, like 6’7".

Nurse Ratched: She is the head nurse in the crazy ward. She is a big bitch. She is a control freak and plays mind games with the patients so they fear her and listen to her.

Billy Bibbit: He is a dude that has mental problems. He also stutters. He is 30 and hasn’t lost his virginity. He feels like a boy. McMurphy gets him a prostitute and Billy finally gets some. He gets in trouble and kills himself out of shame.

Dale Harding: He is a patient and a very smart dude. He is President of the Patients council. He is in a mental hospital because of his sexual problems. He is effeminate and his wife thinks he’s gay. He is cured because of McMurphy’s influence and leaves the hospital.



The book is narrated by this Indian dude named Chief Bromden. He is a crazy guy, who hallucinates a lot. He is in a mental hospital in Oregon. He doesn’t like the hospital because it is scary and the head nurse is this evil chick named Nurse Ratched. Chief doesn’t think she is a human, but a machine (he’s crazy). All the people in the ward think the Chief is deaf and dumb, because he doesn’t talk at all.

Then this new patient comes in. His name is Randall Patrick McMurphy. He is an obnoxious guy who seems normal. He tells everyone he is in a crazy hospital because it is much easier than working for a living (not true).

McMurphy butts heads with Nurse Ratched a lot. They hate each other. He is always pissing her off. One day he wants to watch the World Series, but none of the other patients get on his side to convince the Nurse. The next day he throws a panel through a window. The others get pumped up and vote to watch the World Series. McMurphy needs one more vote so he goes to the crazy Chief.

McMurphy finds out the only way he can get out of the funny farm is if Nurse Ratched says he is okay, so he starts to listen to her rules instead of pissing her off. He is scared because he is one of the few people in there that did not commit themselves on purpose. He was put in there by someone else.

All the patients go on a fishing trip arranged by McMurphy. McMurphy finally gets the Chief to talk. He asks the Chief to get strong so he can lift the big control panel in the hospital and smash the window. Outside the hospital, everyone acts normal. McMurphy has really helped them become normal human beings. He is their hero. He helps them when they get attacked by a nurse aide. He also gets two of the patients hookers. So this one shy patient, Billy, gets to shag a chick and loses his virginity but when Nurse Ratched finds him with a hooker, she plays mind games with him, makes him feel so guilty that the dude kills himself.

McMurphy attacks Nurse Ratched. The other patients aren’t scared of her anymore because they see she is weak. McMurphy is sent to get a lobotomy. He comes back as a vegetable. The Chief smothers him with a pillow because he can’t stand to see McMurphy like a vegetable. Then the Chief throws the big panel through the window and escapes.




SCENES 1 – 3

  • Chief Bromden is the narrator of the book. Everyone thinks he doesn’t talk and can’t hear.
  • Chief is crazy. He hallucinates a lot.
  • He talks about Nurse Ratched, the head nurse. He thinks she is a monster. She likes control over everything.
  • Chief refuses to shave in the morning and he gets drugged.
  • The Chief talks about how the public relations dude gives tours to the public. The PR dude tells them how the hospitals are improved and nice now (they aren’t).
  • Everyone is afraid of Nurse Ratched because she uses mind games to make the patients feel like crap.
  • Then Randall Patrick McMurphy enters the ward. He is a loud obnoxious dude who is a "real" man (he laughs loud and looks like a tough dude).
  • McMurphy tells the other patients he’s in there because a judge thought he fought too much and shagged too many women. He tells them the hospital will be easier than working for a living.
  • The other patients like McMurphy. He’s like that bad kid in school who breaks all the rules -- you love watching him.
  • The Chief shakes hands with McMurphy.
  • The Chief talks about some of the crazier dudes who are motionless in the hospital because of shock treatments and lobotomies.
  • McMurphy has his first fight with Ratched. He tells her he’s not gonna listen to her.

SCENES 4 – 6

  • The Chief overhears the Nurse talking about McMurphy and what a troublemaker he is. They talk around the Chief because they think he’s deaf.
  • The crazy Chief thinks Nurse Ratched belongs to the "combine," which is like an evil government that runs the world and tries to mess with the public.
  • The patients line up for their medication. This dude named Mr. Taber refuses his. So the orderlies grab him and take him to get shock treatment.
  • The Chief talks about the PR guy and makes fun of him.
  • Then Mr. Taber comes back -- they gave him a lobotomy. The Chief talks about how the "Combine" did this so he wouldn’t manipulate anyone.
  • According the to Chief, the "Combine" hates manipulators and wants to keep them "down."
  • The patients have a group meeting to discuss their problems.
  • Some of the patients starts talking about their problems. McMurphy interrupts and makes jokes. Nurse Ratched gets him to shut up.
  • Chief talks about one time when the meeting got out of hand. Nurse Ratched played some sick mind game where she got all the patients to confess a dirty secret. Then some dude wanted to leave and resisted and got shock therapy.
  • The meeting ends and McMurphy is pissed at the Nurse. He is shocked that the Nurse holds these meetings, has patients bring out their problems, and then pits patients against each other. He thinks because not getting any sex makes her tough with everyone else.
  • McMurphy talks to Harding about Nurse Ratched. McMurphy tries to get the other patients to stand up for their rights, but they are too scared.
  • Harding tells McMurphy that anyone who breaks a rule gets shocked. McMurphy thinks he can piss her off without breaking the rules.
  • The crazy Chief talks about Nurse Ratched and how he thinks she controls everything, including the day and night.
  • Then the Chief talks about McMurphy playing cards and how he beats all the other patients then loses all his money on purpose to make them feel better.
  • The night nurse comes in with sleeping pills but drops them. McMurphy hides some of them. Chief doesn’t get his medication and will be sleeping without sleeping pills for the first time.
  • McMurphy finds out Chief isn’t deaf.

SCENES 7 – 9

  • Chief didn’t get his sleeping pills so he has trouble sleeping.
  • Chief has nightmares about how the hospital is an evil machine and also has nightmares of castration (getting his balls lopped off).
  • Chief wakes up the next morning and McMurphy is singing. The Chief is surprised he hasn’t been overpowered by the hospital yet and still has the nerve to rebel.
  • McMurphy wants to brush his teeth, but the toothpaste is locked up until 6:45. McMurphy thinks this is crazy.
  • Nurse Ratched shows up and starts yelling at McMurphy. But McMurphy gets her to stop by walking around in just a towel saying that someone has stolen his clothes.
  • Then he drops the towel and he isn’t naked...he has boxers on. He really gets under the Nurse’s skin.
  • Nurse Ratched talks to the other patients and makes them feel like dirt as usual. The only one she can’t play mind games with is McMurphy.
  • The next day McMurphy keeps stirring things up. He makes up stories of Billy Bibbit having sex (Billy is a virgin) and does other kinds of monkeyshine.
  • McMurphy tells the nurse to turn the music down. Nurse Ratched says no. There is a lot of tension between the two.
  • At the group meeting McMurphy makes some suggestions. He wants a carnival for the ward (rejected). Then he asks for a quiet place for people to read so he and the guys can play cards (approved). Nurse Ratched gets really pissed that McMurphy got something approved and won a "battle" over her.

SCENES 10 – 12

  • McMurphy continues trying to get under the Nurse’s skin.
  • The patients play Monopoly which is hard because they’re all nuts.
  • McMurphy wants to watch the World Series. Nurse Ratched says no. Some patients back her up because they are afraid to rebel.
  • Some of the patients don’t support McMurphy. He gets pissed at talks about breaking out. He tries to live this huge control panel to smash the window. He fails.
  • Scene 12 is just about Chief sweeping the floor and staring at some painting. The painting was an "improvement" to the hospital by the PR dude.

SCENES 13 – 15

  • This patient named Old Rawler kills himself by cutting off his balls.
  • The Chief talks about how he has "fog" in his mind which clouds his vision of the hospital. Not really, he just doesn’t notice certain things because he doesn’t wanna deal with any problems and just wants to lose himself in his own thoughts.
  • The fog comes from when Chief used to be a soldier in WWII and the English spread fog around so the enemy couldn’t see them.
  • The Chief can’t understand why McMurphy wants to pull everyone out of the fog. McMurphy wants people to stand up and fight for their rights instead of taking the EASY way out and just being pathetic people.
  • McMurphy keeps arguing to watch the World Series. He gets 20 votes from the Acutes (patients who can function).
  • Nurse Ratched tells him he needs one more vote for the majority. so he needs one vote from the Chronics (people who are like brain dead).
  • McMurphy asks Chief (a chronic) to raise his hand. He does.
  • The Nurse doesn’t let them watch it anyway, so the men do their chores.
  • McMurphy turns on the game anyway. Nurse Ratched turns it off. So McMurphy watches a blank screen and pretends the game is on and cheers like it is on. He does this to piss off Nurse Ratched, like her turning off the TV had no affect on him.
  • The other patients join McMurphy and watch the blank screen like there’s a game going on.



SCENES 1 – 2

  • The patients are still watching the World Series on a blank screen.
  • The Chief is scared. He thinks this is because he took a stand and raised his hand so the hospital people will be jerks to him.
  • At first Nurse Ratched wants McMurphy to be sent to the disturbed ward. Then she realizes people will feel sorry for him there and he’ll be like a martyr (hero), so she wants to then keep him with her so it looks like his crap isn’t affecting her at all.
  • McMurphy still acts up. He writes swear words in the bathroom. Other patients don’t do their chores because they wanna listen to McMurphy’s cool stories.
  • The Chief talks about how McMurphy has pulled him out of the "fog" and now he has balls.

SCENES 3 – 4

  • They have a group meeting. McMurphy argues with Nurse Ratched. Other patients argue, too, because they know they have McMurphy backing them up.
  • McMurphy finds out the only way he’s getting released is if Nurse Ratched gives him the OK. So he changes his whole attitude. Now he doesn’t rebel.
  • The other patients get pissed because McMurphy doesn’t rebel or back them up anymore. He acts obedient and stuff.
  • Then some dude has a seizure because he doesn’t take his pills. He is giving them to his friend. He doesn’t wanna take it because the pills will make his gums rot. But if he doesn’t take them he’ll grind his teeth during a seizure.

SCENES 5 – 6

  • McMurphy’s big revolt is over. He is an obedient puppy now.
  • Harding’s wife visits (remember Harding is effeminate and scared of his wife). The dude is scared of sex, too.
  • Harding is nervous and makes fun of his wife. She slams him right back.
  • She hits on McMurphy. Harding tries to get McMurphy to get on his side and badmouth his wife.
  • McMurphy tells him that he’s not gonna play that game because Harding wasn’t very nice to. He doesn’t want any part of it.

SCENES 7 – 8

  • Some weeks pass. The patients go for Tuberculosis tests.
  • Harding tells McMurphy all about the shock therapy and the shocks and lobotomies they give to naughty patients. This scares the hell out of McMurphy.
  • The patients talk about what a bitch Nurse Ratched is. They decide she is the only one responsible for their crappy lives.
  • McMurphy tells them she is part of a bigger group that is making their lives suck.
  • Then McMurphy finds out that all of the Acute patients (Billy, Harding, etc) are in the hospital because they choose to be. They can leave whenever they want.
  • McMurphy doesn’t understand why they don’t leave. They are too weak and can’t stand up for themselves.
  • This news pisses off McMurphy. Now he doesn’t know WHY he’s been behaving. What’s the point?
  • McMurphy buys a pack of cigarettes.
  • They have a group meeting and Nurse Ratched tells the patients she is going to punish them for the World Series fiasco. She is taking away their card room.
  • All the patients look to McMurphy to stand up for them. He walks up to the Nurse’s station and breaks the glass. He "claims" he was getting one of his cigarettes and didn’t see the window cause it was polished so nicely.




  • McMurphy is back to being a rebel. He does a lot of stuff to piss off Nurse Ratched.
  • McMurphy wants to take a fishing trip with the other patients. Nurse Ratched hates the idea and tries to scare the patients by telling them about the dangers of the ocean.
  • Some of the patients are scared and don’t go. Now McMurphy doesn’t have enough people to pay for the trip.
  • The Chief wants to go but he has no money. Also, going means people would find out he’s really not deaf and dumb.
  • Chief then has some flashback to when he was a kid and some government dudes came to his Indian village to talk about destroying it to put a dam there.
  • McMurphy starts talking to the Chief. Then he offers him some gum. The Chief says "Thank you." These are the first words the dude has spoken in a long time.
  • McMurphy and the Chief talk about the Chief’s long silence. The Chief doesn’t want to talk because he is rusty.
  • McMurphy asks Chief is he wants to go on the fishing trip. He tells him that there will be two hookers there. The Chief has no money.
  • They work out a deal where the Chief will go, but he has to get strong in the future to lift the control panel and smash the window (remember, McMurphy couldn’t).


  • The morning of the trip arrives. McMurphy needs one more person to go.
  • He finds some dude who is a good fisherman.
  • The Chief is pumped up cause there will be hookers there.
  • The hooker shows up. She is a hottie.
  • Nurse Ratched tries to stop the trip by saying that McMurphy doesn’t have enough room in his car.
  • Then a doctor who thinks the hooker is hot (her name is Candy) agrees to take a hospital car.
  • They finally get outside. The patients are nervous. They stop at a gas station. The gas station dude thinks he’s gonna cheat the doc and the patients cause they are crazy. McMurphy tells the dude they are dangerous and the dude gets scared.
  • They get on the boat and fish. McMurphy goes below the deck to shag the hooker.
  • They work together and help each other to catch the fish and deal with small boat problems.
  • They have some other problems and McMurphy laughs and has a good time. The other patients loosen up and laugh. They feel like real human beings again doing normal stuff.
  • The scene ends with McMurphy talking about this girl he shagged when he was 10.



SCENES 1 – 2

  • Nurse Ratched wants to get revenge on McMurphy. She plans to play mind games with the other patients and tell them he’s a con artist who steals their money.
  • At the group meeting, McMurphy leaves to take a phone call and the Nurse gets them to starts saying things and go against McMurphy.
  • Rumors start to spread that McMurphy is taking their money and not helping them out of pure kindness.
  • The patients go into the shower as punishment for going fishing. Two aides clean this one dude and sexually assault him. McMurphy and the Chief defend the patient and try to beat the crap out of the aides.
  • The Chief and McMurphy are taken to the Disturbed Ward.
  • They are in the Disturbed Ward and then taken to get shock therapy.
  • The Chief and McMurphy receive shock treatment. Chief thinks back to his childhood and his parents.
  • The Chief thinks back to this rhyme he said with his grandma. It’s the rhyme that the book’s title comes from.
  • After the Shock, the Chief is not scared anymore of the big bad hospital. He has finally beaten them, so to speak.

SCENES 3 – 4

  • The Chief goes back to the ward. McMurphy continues to get shocked because he is still rebelling and not apologizing for beating up an aide.
  • They shock him again and again. The other patients talk about him and make him legend. Nurse Ratched hates that.
  • McMurphy returns to the regular ward.
  • The patients want to help McMurphy escape.
  • Nurse Ratched plans to give McMurphy a lobotomy. McMurphy laughs it off.
  • That night, Candy the hooker shows up with a friend.
  • They get the night aide drunk and it’s a big party. The patients break into the records room and look at their files.
  • They agree to tie up the night aide and make it look like McMurphy did it (he will be long gone escaped so it won’t matter).
  • They all go to sleep and plan for an early morning escape for McMurphy. The others won’t go with him because they aren’t ready for freedom.
  • The next morning Nurse Ratched discovers all the mess from the party. McMurphy is still there.
  • She finds Billy in a room with the hooker. He is not a virgin anymore and damn proud.
  • Then the Nurse plays on his fears and tells him she’s gonna tell his parents. He gets scared and apologizes.
  • She sends Billy into the doc’s office. Billy then kills himself.
  • Then McMurphy has one final fight with Nurse Ratched. He attacks her and rips her dress.
  • He is sent to get a lobotomy.
  • Now Nurse no longer strikes the same fear into the patients she did before. Now that they have seen her beaten, they see she is human not some evil machine.
  • McMurphy comes back from the lobotomy and is brain dead. The Chief is sad because his old friend who used to be full of piss and vinegar is now a brain dead dude.
  • The Chief smothers McMurphy with a pillow. Then he takes the control panel, throws it through the window and escapes.



  • A big theme is control. The Chief sees the hospital as the "Combine" some evil organization that likes total control. Nurse Ratched needs control and uses dirty tricks to try to gain it. For example, she makes the patients feel less manly by insulting them and taking away their sexuality.
  • McMurphy is a Christ-like figure. He comes in and saves others. There’s some big symbolism in the end. He is strapped to the shock table and in the end dies because he saved others. Also, McMurphy going on the fishing trip was like Jesus and the disciples. 12 disciples, 12 patients on the trip. Pretty cool, eh?
  • Mind games are a big part of this book. Nurse Ratched takes advantage of the fears of the patients so they have no confidence because they think they are always wrong.
  • Women dominating men is a also big theme. All the nurses are women and they rule over the male patients. The Chief has flashbacks to his childhood where his momma wore the pants in the family.
  • Think about the title of the book and how Chief’s childhood rhyme could suggest that the one who "flew over the cuckoo’s nest" escaped, or rose above the bed treatment and craziness.