The antagonist throughout the novel is the nurse who oversees the section of the ward that the novel focuses on. Her name is Ms. Ratched, and she makes it her duty to attain total control. She creates a routine that is followed everyday that is never broken. She holds absolute power and uses it whenever possible. She gives the ward members little to no freedom, and makes it her agenda to point out their flaws in therapy sessions. Every day is the same in the ward, as the routine is followed.
One day, a new man arrives at the ward, and everything is soon to change. This man, McMurphy, was a prisoner at a work farm. However, he started many fights in order to be called insane, and transfered to the mental facility in order to get out of doing work. He does not actually have a mental disability, but says he does so that he does not have to return to jail. After seeing the total control the nurse has, he decides to make it his duty to try to break the other members free from the nurse's control. He breaks the routine whenever possible, disobeys the rules, and acts out in order to break away from her control.
McMurphy's actions have a profound effect on the other inmates. They relearn to stand up for themselves and make their opinions known. They begin to open up socially and interact in a more positive way. Cheif sees this, and wonders whether McMurphy could be the one to break the nurse's hold. One day Chief reveals himself to McMurphy, which only adds to his resolve. The climax of McMurphy's antics occurs as he sneaks the patients out and goes on a fishing trip in a stolen boat. One would think chaos would follow, but the members of the ward have fun and are able to be themselves. Nurse Ratched sees she is losing the battle, but soon comes up with a plan to regain power. McMurphy is a gambler throughout the novel. He bets the other inmates for their possessions and cigarettes. Nurse Ratched comes up with the idea to plant in the ward members' heads that McMurphy is scamming them.
The novel climaxes with McMurphy's final act. He invites prostitutes to the ward and bribes the janitor. He and the other ward members, including Chief, party all night and eventually pass out. The next morning, Nurse Ratched returns to the chaos and is furious. McMurphy is taken away and everyone wonders what his fate will be. Will McMurphy triumph over Nurse Ratched? What will become of the inmates if he does not return? How will Chief's new found self worth and confidence play out in his role in staying at the ward? You'll have to read the novel to find out for yourself.
1. All of the members within the ward are terrified by Nurse Ratched's wrath. If you were a patient and you saw a new member trying to fight the system would you try to help him? Would you have the strength to?
2. If you were in Chief's position, not thinking you had a problem when you actually did, would you stay at the institution? Would you be able to see past your paranoia to see that you are fooling yourself?