Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Chief Bromden, the narrator and a patient in a mental hospital near Portland, Oregon. At six feet, eight inches, this Native American is the largest and most physically powerful man in his ward. Other patients call him Chief Broom because he spends much of his time sweeping the floors. He has been forced to undergo numerous electroshock treatments over the years he has been in the hospital. He depends on sedatives to help him cope with his fears and feelings of estrangement from those around him, he refuses to talk, and he has convinced everyone who knows him that he is deaf. The son of an American Indian man and a white woman, he has witnessed his father’s decline into alcoholism after being defeated by an essentially white America and its amoral, homogenizing value system. In fact, he views the mental hospital as part of a huge American Combine that forces men into confinement and prescribed behavior, reducing them to little more than impotent automatons. Chief sees Nurse Ratched as the Combine’s evil, castrating agent against whom it is futile and self-destructive to fight—or so he believes until he changes through exposure to Randle McMurphy. Chief proves himself to be not only equal to McMurphy’s example but also equal to fighting defiantly against the Combine.
Randle McMurphy, a patient in the mental hospital, sent there from the Pendleton Farm of Correction by the state for diagnosis and possible treatment. He he makes it clear that he has feigned psychosis to avoid the physical labor required of him in Pendleton. McMurphy enters the hospital at the age of thirty-five with a history of arrests for street and barroom fights, drunkenness, disturbing the peace, and—among other things—statutory rape. He has fierce red hair and a broken-nosed smile. He is a big-talking, thigh-slapping, and jovial storyteller, but he is also fiercely independent and serves as a defiant role model for several of the other patients in the ward. He helps Chief Bromden to discover...
(The entire section is 842 words.)
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