Study Guide

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Part 1, Chapter 1 Summary

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Part I, Chapter One

  • Chief, our narrator, describes how the black orderlies hate everything and are hateful. He tries to avoid them but they like to make fun of him.
  • The orderlies think he’s deaf and dumb (as in, he can’t speak), but he actually understands everything they say. Chief’s been fooling everyone in the asylum for a long time, allowing them to think that he can’t speak or hear.
  • He’s mopping the ward floor when "Big Nurse" (Nurse Ratched) opens the door and comes inside. He describes her as having the kind of personality that you can’t decide if it’s hot or cold; either way it burns.
  • He tries to hide his eyes as she passes. According to Chief’s narrative, "they" can’t tell that much about you if they can’t see your eyes.
  • Big Nurse sees the orderlies who are still mumbling at the end of the hall. They sense her glare and break apart, looking confused.
  • She’s instantly furious because she knows what the orderlies are saying (though Chief doesn't clue us in on the details of the conversation). Their mutual hatred is palpable, something you can practically see and touch.
  • But before the orderlies and Nurse Ratched actually start fighting each other, the patients come out of their dorms. Nurse Ratched stops bickering.
  • She urges the orderlies to move along. Then she nods at the patients, once to eacha calculated nod. Chief says she’s bitter that she’s not perfect; God made a mistake when he gave her such big breasts.
  • Nurse Ratched tells the orderlies that they should shave "poor Mr. Bromden first" (that’s Chief) and to try to avoid the disturbance he causes.
  • Chief ducks back into the mop closet to hide. He says breakfast makes you stronger and more awake so you can avoid the orderlies slipping one of their machines on you instead of an electric shaver. But, they try to use the machine on you before breakfast.
  • Although Chief is hiding, he knows the orderly can smell him and his fear.
  • Chief remembers the time when he went bird-hunting with his father, hoping the memory will help him forget his current fear. He recalls how the bird was safe as long as he kept still, but if it moved because of his fear, Papa would be able to shoot it.
  • The orderlies catch Chief before he gets ten feet out of the mop closet and drag him back to the shaving room.
  • When the shaver gets to his temples, that’s when he knows it’s not a shaver but the other thinga machineand then he can’t hold the noise back.
  • He starts yelling. He hollers until Big Nurse gets there. She jams her wicker handbag into his mouth and shoves it down with a mop handle. (Yeah, Chief is hallucinating.)
  • Chief thinks back to hunting again and remembers a lost hound jumping around in the fog, afraid because it can’t see anything or smell anything but its own fear.
  • Chief seems to think that telling his storythe truth about the asylum, Nurse Ratched, and McMurphywill feel like being that lost hunting dog.
  • Chief says he’s been silent so long that his story will now rage out of him.
  • He assures the reader that what he’s about to reveal is the truth, he says, even if it didn't happen.

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