Chapter 1 opens with the narrator, Chief Bromden, describing the three orderlies mopping the floors after their illicit evening activities. They grumble among themselves, but Nurse Ratchet enters and is furious with them. "Crooking those sectioned arms around the black boys," as they "rip at her underside," the patients stumble out of their dorms to find out what is the "hullabaloo" and the nurse resumes her cold, reserved posture. As the patients emerge, wondering why she scolded the orderlies, she nods at them; then, she tells the orderlies to shave Bromden, but he hides in the mop closet because he does not want to be shaved before breakfast.
In Chapter 2, Bromden narrates that every morning, he and the others sit lined up on each side of the day room, "mixing jigsaw puzzles" as they listen for a key in the lock. Sometimes a visitor enters and Bromden is out sweeping the hall. The Acutes move around, telling jokes to one another. All the while, the Nurse waits to accumulate enough information to have a patient reconditioned at the Main building. The Chronics are there, but among them are those who cannot be repaired.