One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

by Ken Kesey

by Ken Kesey


Ken Kesey is an American author who was born in Colorado in 1935. He studied in Oregon and Stanford and after finishing his studies he passed turbulent years in California. In 1968 he settled down in Oregon. Kesey’s experiences with the drug scene and the situation in hospitals were an advantage when he wrote the novel "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest" in 1962. The book was a great success - not only students liked it.

Main Characters

Chief Bromden

Since he is very reserved and does not want to speak about himself, he pretends to be deaf and dumb. He has been in this hospital for a long time and for this reason he exactly knows the "curing methods" of the staff. He is a peaceful and calm human being and never had any problems with other patients, the Big Nurse or the Black Boys. As time passes he becomes a close friend to McMurphy. Once he helps McMurphy to beat up the Black Boys. At the end this friendship makes it even possible for him to kill McMurphy in order to release him from his pain.

Big Nurse

She has a very strong personality and so she wants to rule over all the patients. She is very self confident and convinced to act in the absolute right way. She is very strict and does not tolerate any humour. She puts pressure on the patients in order to control them. When she realises that McMurphy has more power on the patients then her she sends him to the Lobotomy in order to keep him calm.


McMurphy is a harmless criminal. He is self - assertive and very intelligent. For this reason the Big Nurse does not succeed to put him under her control. McMurphy does not pay attention to the commands of her and the Black Boys. First the patients are shocked of McMurphy's behaviour but then they realise that the Big Nurse has no influence on him.
He is very friendly to the patients and want them to be independent. He learns them how to seize the day and to have fun.


Chief Bromden, a half breed Indian who pretends to be deaf and dumb is the narrator of the story. He has been in the mental hospital for decades and knows exactly what is going on there. He describes the way the Big Nurse, Mrs Ratched, influences and destroys the life of the patients and he gives insight in the practices of mental treatment.
Ever since the Chief has been there the Big Nurse has lead all the proceedings in the hospital. No patient dares to criticise the therapeutic methods - although everyone knows the Shock Shop with the Electric Shock Therapy (EST) and the Lobotomy where they cut out parts of the brain. Even patients who are there for their own free will are afraid, so they suffer everything.
The new patient McMurphy is totally different to all the others. First of all he is not really insane. He pretends to be mentally ill in order to be sent to the hospital and not to jail. He does not follow the instructions of the Big Nurse or the aides (called the Black Boys) and his influence on the other patients rises. They start telling their opinion and realise that it is the Big Nurse who is the source of evil. McMurphy brings life to the patients, he makes them laugh and do things they have always wanted.
One day he organises a fishing trip. The Big Nurse does not want them to go, but in fact she cannot forbid it. When they come back they have to take a special shower for desinfection. In the shower room McMurphy has a hassle with one of the Black Boys. The start fighting and Chief Bromden, no longer thought to be deaf and dumb helps McMurphy. After that incident they are both sent to the section "Disturbed" and get EST. The Chief is allowed to go back to the others after some days, but McMurphy has to stay. However, when the Big Nurse realises that McMurphy has even more power on the patients when he is absent, she lets him come back, too.
One night McMurphy wants to escape but before he breaks out he celebrates with the others. Unfortunately they all drink so much alcohol that McMurphy misses the time to leave. The next morning the staff find the patients asleep and still drunk. The Big Nurse starts an investigation on that case and causes the suicide of one patient. She threatens to tell the patient’s mother about his behaviour of that night. When McMurphy gets to know about the death of his friend he cannot keep calm anymore and beats up the Big Nurse. After this incident he is removed from the Big Nurse’s section. When he is brought back a few days later he is not the same as before. They have chopped out a part of his brain to keep him "harmless". In the next night Chief Bromden decides to release McMurphy from his sufferings and kills him. After that he escapes.

Personal Comment

"One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest" is a very interesting book, that shows much about the everyday life in a mental hospital. Chief Bromden and McMurphys stories are mainly nice and funny to read, but for me the main subject is the treatment of the patients in such an institute. I understand that for disturbed patients a particular medical treatment is necessary, but reading about EST is very shocking and alarming. I think I wouldn’t know so much about this topic if I didn’t read this book.

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