Character Analysis of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest

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The evaluation of the narrative One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey through character analysis shows the theme of power and individual suppression (Foley, 31). Through the characters, it is clear that power has strength; depending on who might be holding it, who doesn’t hold it, who is yearning for it, who is potentially losing it, how those owning and holding it can utilize it in manipulating and intimidation, and for what purpose. The concept of how it can be subverted and disrupted, denied, challenged, and assumed is presented through the story through the different characters.  The paper is going to address and evaluate the theme of power or the strength associated with silence and speech as different individuals can use these two attributes to gain an advantage in their power struggle periods. The paper is also going to address the different characters in the story and how the author used them to show that and prove the notion that the greatest power is never held in silence or speech alone, but through an effective combination of the two. The characters in the novel show that once power is misused, it results in the imposition of actions and feelings to others.

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Chief Bromden

The author uses him as the story narrator as well as a patient in a hospital for mental health individuals located near Portland in Oregon ( He is a Native American with six feet, and approximately eight inches is regarded most powerful and largest and physically strong in his hospital ward. Other patients present in the ward called him Chief Broom simply because he could spend almost entirely the whole time sweeping the floor. Through the power of the Big Nurse (Nurse Ratched), he was forced and subjected to numerous electroshock treatments over his hospital years. He depended on a sedative to deal and subdue the fears and estrangement feelings from those around him. He refused to utter any word thereby convincing everyone who knew him he was deaf. The author uses him by considering his perception that the mental hospital was used as huge American Combine forcing men into prescribed and confinement behavior in which they were reduced to impotent automation. He sees Nurse Ratched the leading Combine’s evil as she castrated agents against her and who were self-destructive and futile to handle.

Randle McMurphy

Randle McMurphy is a patient in the mental hospital and was transferred from Pendleton Farm of Correction by the government through the state for possible and diagnosis treatment. He reflects that he feigned and faked psychosis to ensure he is not subjected to physical labor from the correction center ( He enters the hospital aged 35 years with a definite history in barroom fights and street arrests, drunkenness, and peace disturbance as well as statutory rape. He is ever talking, thigh-slapping, and a jovial storyteller and he is fiercely independent serving defiant role model for the other ward-patients. From the time he joined the hospital and concluded it is run by the totalitarian Nurse Big and her black counterpart attendants, he swears and devotes to lower the nurse’s power over the men in the ward. He wanted to implement and embrace a democratic governance system. Although McMurphy relatively wins significant fights against her, she ultimately possesses the official power in destroying him by using lobotomy and electroshock mechanisms. His indomitable spirit outlived his consciousness as he effectively created discipline route for Chief Bromden.

Nurse Ratched

She was commonly called Big Nurse since she headed the acute ward in the mental hospital. She entirely relied on rules and regulations with full expectations that every patient would follow. Ratched was as steel-cold, unyielding, and mechanical just as her identity suggested and she fully controlled her ward, so that is takes-after a smooth-running, accurate, and an efficient machine. To ensure her patients remain predictable and obedient, she treats them as naughty children and browbeating them as well as ensuring they are spies on each other and give a report back (Kesey, 381). She used this mechanism to subject trouble makers to lobotomies in extreme cases and electroshock treatments. An example is the case of McMurphy who she subjected to both treatments as a way to punish and eventually destroy him. Her tormenting influence to the other patients is too extreme that Ratched was unable to tolerate. His continuous ribald humor senses make the patients laugh reminding them their life endeavors which have been shadowed by oppressive rules, sedatives, and fear; making them feel guilty of spying each other, making them perceive the pretense of Ratched as a democrat as a dictatorship. He offers them unfettered potential glimpse showing them Ratched hid her humanness fallible beneath tyrannical demeanor. She wanted to destroy McMurphy for his antithesis to her ward vision perspective, world, and hospital.

Dale Harding

He is considered the most educated patient admitted on the acute ward as he portrays extreme articulate attributes. On his marriage, he has suffered impotence, and he feared of being a homosexual. Dale was often racked by paranoia and insecurities which entirely Nurse Ratched exacerbated verbally day-in-day-out to ensure she manipulated and controlled him. Even though he considerably spent time in convincing himself that the nurse was giving some help to him to become health, McMurphy’s manipulation and influence on the ward compelled Harding to uphold honest about Retched and himself (Kesey, 75). The social pressure outside the society has really crippled him. Although he is married, his preference is committing himself to the mental hospital rather than facing the wrath and prejudice of his wife. After Nurse Ratched lobotomized McMurphy, Harding leaves the ward paving the way for those cured patients to check out also. Harding’s re-emergence and development of self-individuality signaled how successful MucMurphy’s protagonist to Ratched worked.

Billy Bibbit

He is aged 31 years, and his crippling domination through his mother is conspicuously and acutely shown in the hospital. He portrays shyness as a patient and has bad stutter making him look much younger as compared to his age. He is a receptionist in the hospital, and shockingly Nurse Ratched is his neighbor and close friend. His presence in the hospital is voluntary as he fears the outside society. Nurse Ratched takes the advantage of this closeness to control Billy as she habitually every time threatens to report his behavior to his mother. Towards the end of the story, he commits suicide because of these threats after he was caught by Big Nurse with a prostitute enjoying sexual encounter for the first time. Billy took part in establishing McMurphy a super hero or an alpha male (Abbara, et al., 278).

Nurse Ratched and McMurphy

These characters are used by Ken Kesey as madness victims to portray conformity of power. The tyrannical attack on instrumental rationality through these two characters imposes conformity thereby dismissing individuality are seen as insanity forms ( They don’t portray this solely by submitting to hyper-masculinity and tyrannical femininity as they followed institutional roles of inmate and employee. The nurse’s professional smile is a painted one concealing true emotions. Her artificial smiles can be said to reflect emotional labor in service transactions. McMurphy teaches the other inmates to replace and resist imposed identity articulate to social conventions and at the same time nurture and treasure their voices. Murphy shows the character of an undivided man as he doesn’t maneuver from private to public selves showing he merely remains a public performance.

The following minor actors played important roles in the story. For instance, Warren, Washington, Williams, and Geever were hospital aides. They were hired by Nurse Ratched as they were full of hatred and easily submitted completely to her wishes. Warren, Williams, and Washington were Ratched’s daytime aides while only Geever attended the night shift. Doctor Spivey was chosen by Nurse Big to attend patients in her ward since he was easily dominated and cowed just like the patients. He was mil-mannered addicted to opiates and supported McMurphy in unusual carnival plans. Charles Cheswick supported McMurphy’s protagonist to Nurse Ratched. He did little action but talked much and eventually drowned on the pool by committing suicide as McMurphy didn’t return the favor of supporting him when he rebelled against Ratched.

Candy Starr was carefree and a beautiful Portland prostitute. She accompanied McMurphy and the patient crew on the fishing trip and later attends the late-night party arranged by McMurphy. Chief Tee Ah Millatoona is Bromden’s father who was nicknamed The Pine That Stands Tallest on the Mountain. He was the Columbia Indians chief married to Caucasian woman taking her last name. Her wife made him made him become alcoholic and feel small. The submission and marriage to the white woman made a complete statement regarding the oppression the natural order is deprived off by the so-called modern society. It also reflected the white’s encroachment on the Native Americans. Rawler was a patient in the hospital but on (Disturbed ward) and ended up committing suicide by cutting off his testicles (Kesey, 270). The castration symbolized the psychological emasculation the patients were subjected to routinely. This is because they didn’t possess the power to defend themselves.

In conclusion, everyone at one point of his/her live feels out of place or different. This is because everyone may have faced a bully or that individual they didn’t wish to be around them. The discussed characters show the daily situations one faces. Through the discussed characters, several themes like individual oppression, racism, freedom, and power are surfaced and how they impact our daily operations in society. Some people believe staying in society is difficult and are unable to fend themselves hence they require someone to control them. Some individuals turn against their lifestyles and force change amendments. Through the characters, individuality and agency are explored in the binaries world. The characters trying to transcend the binaries don’t escape the conformity of social trap.

Works Cited

  1. Representation of madness in Kesey’s One flew over the cuckoo’s nest. Retrieved on 27th of November 2018 from
  2. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest Characters. Retrieved on 27th of November 2018 from
  3. Foley, Andrew. “Allegories of freedom: Individual liberty and social conformity in Ken Kesey’s one flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”Journal of Literary Studies17.1-2 (2001): 31-57.
  4.  Kesey Ken. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. London: Penguin Books, 2005
  5. Abbara, Aula, & Huda Al-Hadithy. “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Student BMJ 14 (2006)
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Character Analysis Of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. (2019, Jul 24). Retrieved February 8, 2023 , from

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