The novel is set in a mental hospital during the 1960’s and it mainly focuses on the characters of Randle Patrick McMurphy, Nurse Ratched and Chief Bromden who is the narrator of the story. The plot of the story focuses on the antics of McMurphy who tries to thwart the efforts of the head of the ward, Nurse Ratched, when he is transferred to her ward.
The novel reveals the fact that he was a master gambler before being admitted to the mental hospital. He conned his way into the mental institution so as to reduce his prison sentence. Nurse Ratched runs the ward in tyrannical way with three other day shift orderlies.
Randle Patrick McMurphy who is the hero of the story is a rebellious convict sent to the mental hospital from a prison to serve out the rest of his sentence. He was sentenced to a prison farm after being charged with gambling and assault. On his arrival, he disrupts the normal routines of the ward and its patients as well as the staff that includes the tyrannical Nurse Ratched with his rowdiness.
He mocks the ward’s policies set by Nurse Ratched and he jokes about her with the other mental patients in the ward. The other patients are however terrified of joking about Nurse Ratched. McMurphy decides to place a bet with the other patients that he can be able to break her in one week. He manages to do this by making fun of Nurse Ratched every time she is near by making snide comments or joking about her body weight.
In an attempt to change the ward’s policies, McMurphy convinces the ward patients that they should vote to change the TV viewing times. The male patients adamant to follow McMurphy’s plan which makes him to force the vote on them. Nurse Ratchfed does not however accept their vote which leads McMurphy and the male patients to watch the television anyway regardless of the fact that nothing is showing.
He also goes ahead with organizing for a deep sea fishing trip as part of his plan to break the Nurse’s guard. McMurphy does all these things at first to win the bets he has made with the other patients but his attention is drawn to fighting for their rights because they cannot stand up for themselves.
McMurphy’s other indiscretions involve bribing a night orderly so that he can break into the pharmacy to steal medication. He also smuggles into the ward two prostitutes and bottles of liquor. McMurphy persuades one of the prostitutes to seduce Billy Bibbit so that he can loose his virginity to her. Billy is a timid man who stutters a lot and happens to be very shy around women. McMurphy ends up throwing a party in the ward that turns out to be a messy affair.
They forget to clean the mess up before the morning crew arrives because they all fell asleep. The staff find the mess in the ward and notify Nurse Ratched who goes round the ward and finds Billy with the prostitutes partially clothed in his arms. Nurse Ratched admonishes Billy for his behavior which in turn leads to Billy standing up to himself for the first time.
Nurse Ratched is however not fazed by his sudden confidence as she threatens to tell his mother of what he did with the prostitutes. The nurse’s reaction causes Billy to have a nervous breakdown. He is escorted to the doctor’s office where he commits suicide.
The nurse blames McMurphy for Billy’s death but he does not take her accusations lying down. He violently attacks Ratched and tries to strangle her to death but the orderlies pull him off of her and drag him away to the disturbed ward to be lobotomized before he is returned to the ward.
The nurse sustains serious injuries during the physical attack which makes her miss one week of work. During her time away, many of the patients in Ratched’s ward move to other wards in the hospital while others decide to check themselves out. When she returns, she is unable to speak making it difficult for her to keep the remaining patients in the ward to tow the line.
McMurphy is returned to the ward after having a cruel lobotomy procedure performed on him that has left him motionless and still. After seeing what has happened to McMurphy, the remaining patients leave the ward and hospital because they do not want the same fate befalling them. Chief Bromden who is McMurphy’s close friend in the ward eventually kills him by smothering him with a pillow.
The narrator of the story is Chief Bromden because McMurphy’s story is told through his eyes. Bromden was admitted to the hospital because he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, a condition that made him interpret his surroundings to be nothing more than literal metaphors.
An example was when he tried to escape from the real world by sinking into a mental stupor. He is referred to as chief because he came from a reservation in Canada that was operated by his father. Bromden pretends to be deaf and dumb, an act which is believed by many of the staff and patients until McMurphy arrives.
McMurphy and Bromden become good friends which leads the chief to confide in McMurphy that he can actually hear what people are saying and speak. So as to make the male patients loose their current inhibitions, McMurphy organizes a fishing trip for Chief and the other patients in the ward so that they can do things that they normally were not allowed to do by Nurse Ratched and the other orderlies.
At some point during his many run-ins with the head nurse, McMurphy lands himself and Chief Bromden into a shock therapy session after getting into a fight with the black orderlies. Bromden decides to end McMurphy’s life because the lobotomy makes him to be still and lifeless. He kills McMurphy by smothering him with a pillow after which he breaks a window with a shower control panel, escaping back to the reservation in Canada.
Portrayal of the Characters in the Film” One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’
The film was a 1975 adaptation of the novel written in 1962 by Ken Kessey. The movie follows the same script in the novel with the same characters and names being used in the movie. The main character Randle Patrick Murphy is portrayed by Jack Nicholson in the movie while Chief Bromden is acted by Will Sampson.
The character of Nurse Ratched is portrayed by Louise Fletcher. The movie focuses on Randle McMurphy who is sentenced to a prison farm for statutory rape. He is however transferred to a mental hospital because of a ploy he devised to evade hard labor in the prison farm. He uses the excuse that he is anti authoritarian and non conformist who has a history of violence but does not show any symptoms of mental illness.
In the movie, Nurse Ratched is depicted as a calm but unyielding tyrannical woman who suppresses the wards patients from speaking and breaking down up by punishing errant patients with humiliation, dangerous shock therapies, lobotomy and mind numbing daily routines.
When McMurphy arrives in the mental hospital, he finds that the patients most of whom are middle aged male patients are being kept under an institutionalized environment that shifts their focus on becoming functional and normal members of the society.
The patients that McMurphy befriends in the hospital are Billy Bibbit, a timid and shy person who suffers sever stuttering whose character is acted by Brad Dourif, Charlie Cheswick who has a disposition to sudden fits of temper and whose role was played by Sydney Lassick in the movie.
Other patients in the film are Martini played by Danny Devito, Dale Harding played by William Redfield and Chief Bromden Played by Will Sampson. Many of the patients and staff at the hospital belief Chief Bromden is both deaf and dumb. They mostly ignore him because of this but they respect him because of his 6 feet inch height and size.
At first McMurphy’s efforts towards Nurse Ratched are geared towards amusement for himself and the other patients in the ward but they soon become geared towards making her loosen control over the ward. McMurphy is seen in the movie gambling and playing cards with the other patients but is soon discovered by Nurse who confiscates the cigarettes.
She also ensures that their leisure time is rationed and the amount of time for TV viewing is limited. McMurphy reacts by calling for a vote that will see the policies being used in the ward facing some change. He does this so that he and the other patients can be allowed to watch the World Series baseball game.
He unsuccessfully places a bet with the patients that he can break out of the hospital by trying to lift a heavy hydrotherapy console that is still attached to the floor to break a nearby window. McMurphy organizes a deep sea fishing trip so as to improve the patient’s moral and self esteem which is low because of Ratched’s tyrannical control over them. They jump over the institution’s fence and steal a school bus.
This scene is seen to be the only part that has been filmed outside of the hospital during the whole course of the movie. After the trip, McMurphy realizes that Ratched has the authority to keep him locked up in the ward for an indefinite period of time against his will after she discovers he escaped from the asylum with other patients in the ward.
Nurse Ratched does not punish McMurphy and the other escapees for their deep sea fishing trip. She however increases her control over the ward to try and suppress the slowly liberated male patients. McMurphy blames the other patients for failing to inform him of Ratched’s firm control in the institution and what she is capable of doing to any of the patients should they go against her orders.
He also learns that the patients other than himself, Chief Bromden and Taber played by Christopher Lloyd have voluntarily committed themselves into the mental asylum.
McMurhpy, Cheswick and Chief are detained for electroconvulsive therapy after they engage in a fight with the institutions orderlies. McMurphy and Chief have to wait for their turn as Cheswick undergoes the medical procedure. While they are waiting, he offers Chief a piece of gum to which he tells him thanks.
This leaves McMurhpy in shock because he thought that the tall man was deaf and could not talk. They later engage in a conversation where McMurphy discovers that Chief shares his distaste for the hospital and Nurse Ratched but he opts to keep quiet to avoid any confrontations with the nurse or the orderlies.
The two become good friends and Chief becomes McMurphy’s close confidant in the mental asylum. After the electroshock therapy session, McMurphy walks stiffly back to the ward assuring his friends that the therapy did not affect him in any way. He continues with his plans to throw Nurse Ratched from the ward by inviting Candy and her friend Rose to the hospital.
He sneaks them in through a window after bribing the night watchman, Mr. Turkle, to look the other way. A party is soon underway in the ward with Billy, who is known to be shy and awkward around women, flirting with Candy. Billy eventually ends up in a private room with Candy after being convinced by McMurphy.
McMurphy, Chief and the other patients in the ward all pass out after a night of heavy drinking. They forget to clean up the ward and the mess is discovered in the morning by nurse Ratched. She finds Billy with Candy and confronts him about his behavior to which he confidently says that he is not.
The nurse threatens to tell Billy’s mother to which he panics and has a nervous breakdown. He later kills himself in the doctor’s office by cutting his throat with a knife. McMurphy reacts to his death by trying to choke Ratched to death until an orderly knocks him down.
He is escorted away only to be returned later in the night under a state of unconsciousness. Chief Bromden on closer examination of his friend notes that he has been lobotomized. Because he cannot accept his friend living in that vegetative state, Chief smothers him with a pillow thereby ending his life. He then uses the hydrotherapy console that McMurphy tried to use before to escape from the hospital. He breaks through the grated window and climbs down. The movie ends with a shot of him running away into the distance.