Pete Bancini: Pete Bancini is a Chronic patient. He suffered brain damage at birth, but managed to hold down a simple job for years. Because he was so simple, the Combine did not mold him the way it molded everyone else. On one occasion, Pete punched one of the black boys; but he never tries anything like that now. Instead, he just complains about how tired he is.
Billy Bibbit: Billy Bibbit is a thirty-one-year-old Acute. He has been tormented by a stutter all his life, and he is very immature. When he proposed to his girlfriend, he stuttered trying to say the word “marry,” until the girl burst out laughing. On the fishing trip, he falls in love with Candy, and McMurphy gets Candy to come to the ward at night so that Billy can make love to her.
Old Blastic: Old Blastic is one of the patients in the ward. He is classified by the Chief as a Vegetable, and he dies early on in the novel.
Captain Block: Captain Block is the owner of the fishing boat that is taken without his permission by McMurphy and the other patients.
Chief Bromden: Chief Bromden is the narrator of the story. He is the son of the chief of the Columbia Indians and a white woman. Traumatized by watching the decline of his father after the government seized his land, he joined the army and became an electrician’s assistant. Bromden suffers from paranoia and hallucinations and is reputed to have received over two hundred electric shock treatments. He has been in the ward for ten years, longer than anyone else. Everyone thinks he is deaf and dumb, but this is only an act on his part. At the beginning of the novel, he is convinced of his own weakness and insignificance. Although he is six feet eight inches tall, he thinks he is small. But gradually McMurphy shows him who he really is, and he starts to regain some of the individuality and confidence that he lost to the Combine—his term for the oppressive force of society that makes everyone conform to its machine-like rigidity. Eventually he gains enough strength to break out of the ward and plan a future for himself.
The “Black Boys”: Washington, Warren, Geever, and Williams
The “black boys” are the aides in the psychiatric ward. The Big Nurse selected them carefully because of they were full of hatred, and over the years they have completely attuned to the will of the Big Nurse. They do whatever she wants them to do.
Cheswick: Cheswick is an Acute who is quick to support McMurphy in standing up to the Big Nurse. Cheswick is all talk and bluster, however, and he soon backs down when he sees he is not getting anywhere. He drowns in the pool after McMurphy fails to support him when he demands his cigarettes from the Big Nurse. His death may be a suicide, although that is not stated explicitly.
Ellis: Ellis is a Chronic. Originally he was an Acute, but he was given treatment in the “Shock Shop” that destroyed his brain. He is nailed against the wall with his arms outstretched (at least this is how the Chief sees him).
Frederickson: Frederickson, like Seefelt, is an epileptic. He is scared of having a fit, so he takes a double dose of medicine—his own and Seefelt’s. The medicine makes his gums rot.
George: George is an Acute. He is a shy man who is obsessed with cleanliness. He was a professional fisherman for twenty-five years, and McMurphy makes him captain of the boat on their fishing trip. George’s fear of receiving an enema is what sparks the fight between McMurphy and Washington.
Sandy Gilfilliam: Sandy Gilfilliam is a friend of Candy’s who comes to the night-time party on the ward.
Dale Harding: Dale Harding is the most articulate of the Acutes. Before McMurphy arrives, he is their leader, being president of the Patient’s Council. Harding has a college degree and is well read. However, he has an effeminate manner, and his hands are feminine-looking. He is embarrassed by this and often tries to conceal them. Harding is dominated by his wife, and there are strong hints that he is a homosexual. He has voluntarily entered the psychiatric ward.
Vera Harding: Vera Harding is Dale Harding’s wife. She is young, tall and attractive, and she dominates her husband.
The Lifeguard: The Lifeguard is an ex-pro-footballer who is on the Disturbed ward. He often has hallucinations, and has been a patient in the hospital for nearly nine years.
Martini: Martini is an Acute. He lives in his own illusory, fantasy world. During the basketball game, for example, he passes the ball to imaginary players that only he can see, and on the fishing trip he sees things in the water that no one else can.
Colonel Matterson: Colonel Matterson is the oldest Chronic on the ward. A World War II veteran, he was committed to the hospital by his wife.
Randle P. McMurphy: Randle P. McMurphy is the main character in the novel. He is thirty-five years old, strongly built, with red hair, a scar on his face and tattoos on his body. He enters the ward having been transferred from a work farm, where he was serving a short sentence for assault. He has been diagnosed as a psychopath, but he is not really insane. McMurphy is outgoing and uninhibited. He is not the least intimidated by the oppressive atmosphere in the ward, or by the Big Nurse. He laughs and jokes a lot, and makes little secret of the fact that he is a gambler and con man. He is able to talk easily to the other Acutes, as if they are not at all crazy, and he soon sees that the ward is set up so the men all conspire with the Big Nurse to prolong their own state of weakness and dependence.
From the beginning, McMurphy is on a collision course with the Big Nurse, who sees him as a threat to her absolute control of the ward. By getting the men to assert themselves he shakes up the organization of the ward; he organizes basketball games and a fishing trip in order to get the men to believe in themselves. As the novel progresses, McMurphy becomes a Christ-figure, sacrificing himself so that the other men can free themselves from the iron grip of the psychiatric ward.
Japanese Nurse: The Japanese nurse attends to McMurphy and Bromden when they are taken to the Disturbed ward.
Miss Pilbow: Miss Pilbow is the nurse with a prominent birthmark on her face. She is nervous and frightened of the patients, especially McMurphy. She is a believing Catholic and wears a crucifix around her neck.
Nurse Ratched, the Big Nurse: The Big Nurse controls the psychiatric ward. She is about fifty years old, and her manner is coldly efficient. She likes to enforce rules strictly, and although she believes she is trying to help the patients, the therapy sessions she conducts only reinforce their weaknesses. She is the representative in the hospital of what Bromden calls the Combine, the force in society that compels everyone to conform to its narrow rules. The Big Nurse engages in a duel with McMurphy over control of the ward.
Rawler: Rawler is a patient in the Disturbed ward. The Big Nurse arranged for him to be sent there years ago because he would not keep still. He commits suicide by castrating himself and bleeding to death.
Ruckly: Ruckly, like Ellis, is a Chronic whose brain functioning was destroyed by excessive use of electric shock therapy.
Scanlon: Scanlon is an Acute. He is one of the few patients who had been involuntarily committed to the hospital (he has fantasies about destroying things), and he is one of the few who remains there at the end.
Seefelt: Seefelt is an epileptic who is reluctant to take the medicine that would control his seizures because he does not like the side-effects. He gives his pills to Frederickson, who is also an epileptic.
Dr. Spivey: Dr. Spivey is the ineffectual doctor in charge of the psychiatric ward. He is a weak man, possibly addicted to drugs, who is under the thumb of the Big Nurse. McMurphy calls him a “frightened, desperate, ineffectual little rabbit” (p. 40). although inspired by McMurphy’s example, he also learns to a certain extent to stand up to her and assert his authority.
Candy Starr: Candy Starr is the prostitute from Portland who accompanies the patients on their fishing expedition. Billy Bibbit falls in love with her. Later, the men sneak Candy into the ward for the nighttime party. She and Billy Bibbit make love.
Max Taber: Max Taber was a former patient in the ward who incurred the dislike of the Big Nurse, who regarded him as a manipulator. She subjected him to electric shock treatment, which made him docile and compliant. He was then released, and his treatment considered a success.
Tadem and Gregory: Tadem and Gregory are two Acutes who go on the fishing trip.
Mr. Turkle: Mr. Turkle is an old black man who works as an aide on the night shift in the psychiatric ward. He accepts a bribe to allow the party organized by McMurphy to take place.