From the beginning of the novel to McMurphy’s bet with the patients Summary
Chief Bromden, a long-term patient in Nurse Ratched’s psychiatric ward, narrates the events of the novel. The book begins as he awakens to a typical day on the ward, feeling paranoid about the illicit nighttime activities of the ward’s three black aides. The aides mock him for being a pushover, even though he is six feet seven inches tall, and they make him sweep the hallways for them, nicknaming him “Chief Broom.” Bromden is half Indian and pretends to be deaf and dumb; as a result, he overhears all the secrets on the ward and is barely noticed by anyone despite his stature.
Nurse Ratched, whom Bromden refers to as “the Big Nurse,” enters the ward with a gust of cold air. Bromden describes Ratched as having “skin like flesh-colored enamel” and lips and fingertips the strange orange color of polished steel. Her one feminine feature is her oversized bosom, which she tries to conceal beneath a starched white uniform. When she gets angry with the aides, Bromden sees her get “big as a tractor.” She orders the aides to shave Bromden, and he begins to scream and hallucinate that he is being surrounded by machine-made fog until he is forcedly medicated. He tells us that his forthcoming story about the hospital might seem “too awful to be the truth.” Bromden regains consciousness in the day room. Here, he tells us that a public relations man sometimes leads tours around the ward, pointing out the cheery atmosphere and claiming that the ward is run without the brutality exercised in previous generations. Today, the ward’s monotony is interrupted when Randle McMurphy, a new patient, arrives. McMurphy’s appearance is preceded by his boisterous, brassy voice and his confident, iron-heeled walk. McMurphy laughs when the patients are stunned silent by his entrance. It is the first real laugh that the ward has heard in years. McMurphy, a large redhead with a devilish grin, swaggers around the ward in his motorcycle cap an...