One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Chief Bromden Character Analysis

Narrator; half Indian, 6’3 patient who has been on the ward the longest. Pretends to be deaf and dumb for the majority of his commitment. Hallucinates a thick fog that begins to wane with McMurphy’s arrival. He also begins to think more about his past, in which his Native American family was forced to sell their land to make way for a hydroelectric dam. He escapes the ward at the novel’s end after suffocating a lobotomized McMurphy.

Chief Bromden Quotes in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

The One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest quotes below are all either spoken by Chief Bromden or refer to Chief Bromden. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Sanity v. Insanity Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest published in 2002.
Part One Quotes

Across the room from the Acutes are the culls of the Combine’s product, the Chronics. Not in the hospital, these, to get fixed, but just to keep them from walking around the streets giving the product a bad name. Chronics are in for good, the staff concedes. Chronics are divided into Walkers like me, can still get around if you keep them fed, and Wheelers and Vegetables. What the Chronics are—or most of us—are machines with flaws inside that can’t be repaired, flaws born in, or flaws beat in over so many years of the guy running head-on into solid things that by the time the hospital found him he was bleeding rust in some vacant lot.

Related Characters: Chief Bromden (speaker)
Page Number: 14-15
Explanation and Analysis:

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There’s something strange about a place where the men won’t let themselves loose and laugh, something strange about the way they all knuckle under to that smiling flour-faced old mother there with the too-red lipstick and the too-big boobs. And he thinks he’ll just wait a while to see what the story is in this new place before he makes any kind of play. That’s a good rule for a smart gambler: look the game over awhile before you draw yourself a hand.

Related Characters: Chief Bromden (speaker)
Related Symbols: Laughter, Gambling
Page Number: 43
Explanation and Analysis:

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You’re making sense, old man, a sense of your own. You’re not crazy the way they think.

Related Characters: Randle P. McMurphy (speaker), Chief Bromden
Page Number: 117
Explanation and Analysis:

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If somebody’d of come in and took a look, men watching a blank TV, a fifty-year –old woman hollering and squealing at the back of their heads about discipline and order and recriminations, they’d of thought the whole bunch was crazy as loons.

Related Characters: Chief Bromden (speaker), Nurse Ratched
Page Number: 126
Explanation and Analysis:

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Part Two Quotes

They’re trying to act like they still got their eyes on nothing but that blank TV in front of us, but anyone can see they’re all sneaking looks at the Big Nurse behind her glass there, just the same as I am. For the first time she’s on the other side of the glass and getting a taste of how it feels to be watched when you wish more than anything else to be able to pull a green shade between your face and all the eyes that you can’t get away from.

Related Characters: Chief Bromden (speaker), Nurse Ratched
Page Number: 129
Explanation and Analysis:

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There was times that week when I’d hear that full-throttled laugh, watch [McMurphy] scratching his belly and stretching and yawning and leaning back to wink at whoever he was joking with, everything coming to him just as natural as drawing breath, and I’d quit worrying about the Big Nurse and the Combine behind her. I’d think he was strong enough being his own self that he would never back down the way she was hoping he would. I’d think, maybe he truly is something extraordinary. He’s what he is, that’s it. Maybe that makes him strong enough, being what he is. The Combine hasn’t got to him in all these years; what makes the nurse think she’s gonna be able to do it in a few weeks? He’s not gonna let them twist him and manufacture him.

Related Characters: Chief Bromden (speaker), Randle P. McMurphy, Nurse Ratched
Related Symbols: Laughter
Page Number: 139-140
Explanation and Analysis:

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In the group meetings there were gripes coming up that had been buried so long the thing being griped about had already changed. Now that McMurphy was around to back them up, the guys started letting fly at everything that had ever happened on the ward they didn’t like.

Related Characters: Chief Bromden (speaker), Randle P. McMurphy
Page Number: 144
Explanation and Analysis:

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EST isn’t always used for punitive measures, as our nurse uses it, and it isn’t pure sadism on the staff’s part, either. A number of supposed Irrecoverables were brought back into contact with shock, just as a number were helped with lobotomy and leucotomy. Shock treatment has some advantages; it’s cheap, quick, entirely painless. It simply induces a seizure.

Related Characters: Chief Bromden (speaker)
Page Number: 162
Explanation and Analysis:

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McMurphy doesn’t know it, but he’s onto what I realized a long time back, that it’s not just the Big Nurse by herself, but it’s the whole Combine, the nation-wide Combine that’s the really big force, and the nurse is just a high-ranking official for them.

Related Characters: Chief Bromden (speaker), Randle P. McMurphy, Nurse Ratched
Page Number: 164
Explanation and Analysis:

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Part Three Quotes

They could sense the change that most of us were only suspecting; these weren’t the same bunch of weak-knees from a nuthouse that they’d watched take their insults on the dock this morning. They didn’t exactly apologize to the girl for the things they’d said, but when they ask to see a fish she’d caught they were just as polite as pie. And when McMurphy and the captain came back out of the bait shop we all shared a beer together before we drove away.

Related Characters: Chief Bromden (speaker), Randle P. McMurphy, Candy Starr
Page Number: 218
Explanation and Analysis:

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Part Four Quotes

[Nurse Ratched] knew that people, being like they are, sooner or later are going to draw back a ways from somebody who seems to be giving a little more than ordinary, form Santa Clauses and missionaries and men donating funds to worthy causes, and begin to wonder: what’s in it for them? Grin out of the side of their mouths when the young lawyer, say, brings a sack of pecans to the kids in his district school—just before nominations for state senate, the sly devil—and say to one another, He’s nobody’s fool.

Related Characters: Chief Bromden (speaker), Nurse Ratched
Related Symbols: Gambling
Page Number: 225
Explanation and Analysis:

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I still had my own notions—how McMurphy was a giant come out of the sky to save us from the Combine that was networking the land with copper wire and crystal, how he was too big to be bothered with something as measly as money—but even I came halfway to thinking like the others. What happened was this: He’d helped carry the tables into the tub room before one of the group meetings and was looking at me standing beside the control panel.

Related Characters: Chief Bromden (speaker), Randle P. McMurphy
Related Symbols: Gambling, The Control Panel
Page Number: 231
Explanation and Analysis:

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I tried to talk to [McMurphy] into playing along with [Nurse Ratched] so’s to get out of the treatments, but he just laughed and told me Hell, all they was doin’ was chargin’ his battery for him, free for nothing.

Related Characters: Chief Bromden (speaker), Randle P. McMurphy, Nurse Ratched
Page Number: 250
Explanation and Analysis:

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She tried to get her ward back into shape, but it was difficult with McMurphy’s presence still tromping up and down the halls and laughing out loud in the meetings and singing in the latrines. She couldn’t rule with her old power any more, not by writing things on pieces of paper. She was losing her patients one after the other. After Harding signed out and was picked up by his wife, and George transferred to a different ward, just three of us were left out of the group that had been on the fishing crew, myself and Martini and Scanlon.

Related Characters: Chief Bromden (speaker), Randle P. McMurphy, Nurse Ratched, Dale Harding, George Sorenson, Martini, Scanlon
Related Symbols: Laughter
Page Number: 277
Explanation and Analysis:

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I was only sure of one thing: [McMurphy] wouldn’t have left something like that sit there in the day room with his name tacked on it for twenty or thirty years so the Big Nurse could use it as an example of what can happen if you buck the system. I was sure of that.

Related Characters: Chief Bromden (speaker), Randle P. McMurphy, Nurse Ratched
Page Number: 278
Explanation and Analysis:

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The big, hard body had a tough grip on life. It fought a long time against having it taken away, flailing and thrashing around so much I finally had to lie full length on top of it and scissor the kicking legs with mine while I mashed the pillow into the face. I lay there on top of the body for what seemed days. Until the thrashing stopped. Until it was still a while and had shuddered once and was still again. Then I rolled off. I lifted the pillow, and in the moonlight I saw the expression hadn’t changed from the blank, dead-end look the least bit, even under suffocation. I took my thumbs and pushed the lids down and held them till they stayed. Then I lay back on my bed.

Related Characters: Chief Bromden (speaker), Randle P. McMurphy
Page Number: 278
Explanation and Analysis:

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I been away a long time.

Related Characters: Chief Bromden (speaker)
Page Number: 281
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chief Bromden Character Timeline in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

The timeline below shows where the character Chief Bromden appears in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part One
Sanity v. Insanity Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
The Combine: Machine, Nature, and Man Theme Icon
The book begins with the narrator, Chief Bromden, waking up early within the psychiatric ward in Oregon where he has spent the past... (full context)
Sanity v. Insanity Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
The Combine: Machine, Nature, and Man Theme Icon
Emasculation and Sexuality Theme Icon
Nurse Ratched, also known as the “Big Nurse”, enters the ward. Bromden knows it’s her by the way the key turns, and cold air follows her inside.... (full context)
Emasculation and Sexuality Theme Icon
Nurse Ratched composes herself. Bromden describes her face as being precisely made, like a doll, with everything seemingly working except... (full context)
Sanity v. Insanity Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
The Combine: Machine, Nature, and Man Theme Icon
Nurse Ratched proposes that to get a good start to Monday the aides should shave Bromden. He quickly hides in a mop closet. He tries to think back to where he... (full context)
Sanity v. Insanity Theme Icon
Social Pressure and Shame Theme Icon
Bromden promises that the story he is about to tell will burn him like a dog... (full context)
Sanity v. Insanity Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
The Combine: Machine, Nature, and Man Theme Icon
Bromden wakes in the dayroom as the fog is beginning to clear. He knows he wasn’t... (full context)
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
...one already at the courthouse. The patients can only hear his loud voice, which reminds Bromden of his father’s once booming voice. McMurphy laughs, for no identifiable reason, and Bromden realizes... (full context)
Sanity v. Insanity Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
The Combine: Machine, Nature, and Man Theme Icon
McMurphy scans the room, which Bromden then describes. It’s filled with Acutes (curables) and Chronics (vegetables). A logbook is kept by... (full context)
Sanity v. Insanity Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
Social Pressure and Shame Theme Icon
The Combine: Machine, Nature, and Man Theme Icon
Emasculation and Sexuality Theme Icon
...over. Billy says he supposes it’s Dale Harding, the president of the Patient’s Council who Bromden notes has effeminate good looks suited for the silver screen. McMurphy and Harding exchange joking... (full context)
Sanity v. Insanity Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
...McMurphy goes around the room and shakes all of the Chronics’ hands, to everyone’s surprise. Bromden is the last one, and he feels that McMurphy can tell he’s not deaf and... (full context)
Sanity v. Insanity Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
The Combine: Machine, Nature, and Man Theme Icon
Bromden relates how strictly Nurse Ratched runs her ward. He believes that she’s part of a... (full context)
Sanity v. Insanity Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
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Bromden believes that the psych ward is a factory for the Combine. It’s purpose is to... (full context)
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...democratically where votes are taken by the patients to decide on problems that need solving. Bromden says he’s heard these rules a million times. The doctor compares it to a small... (full context)
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...men are sent by Nurse Ratched for electrotherapy if they don’t behave. Harding points to Bromden sweeping in a corner and says that Bromden is now just a cleaning machine after... (full context)
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Bromden believes that Nurse Ratched has the power to set the clock at any speed to... (full context)
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...down but Harding says that’s the kind of behavior that will get him shock treatment. Bromden, as if in a trance, watches McMurphy while he plays blackjack with the patients—winning tremendously,... (full context)
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McMurphy is given a bed next to Bromden, and as they are preparing for sleep he talks to Bromden. Bromden doesn’t take his... (full context)
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That night Bromden suffers from a nightmare/hallucination where the hospital is a slaughterhouse and Old Blastic is attached... (full context)
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...against policy to give it to him this early, he brushes his teeth with soap. Bromden tries to hide his smile as he mops in the same place he did the... (full context)
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...adds pennies to the game to raise the stakes so it’s more of a gamble. Bromden notes that McMurphy is making a very conscious effort not to lose his temper with... (full context)
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Bromden recalls the old hospital where there was no television, swimming pools or chicken served twice... (full context)
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The group meeting begins and Bromden feels the fog starting to thicken in the room, which he believes Nurse Ratched turned... (full context)
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McMurphy proposes another vote about watching the World Series, and Bromden watches as all twenty Acutes raise their hands. Nurse Ratched responds that the proposal is... (full context)
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...at them for breaking the rules. McMurphy wins his bet about making Ratched lose control. Bromden says anyone looking in would think the whole room was filled with lunatics. (full context)
Part Two
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...aides are watching Nurse Ratched after her outburst while she sits in the nurse’s station. Bromden notes that the fog has disappeared. He remembers he’s supposed to clean the staff room... (full context)
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...as he can over the next week. McMurphy hardly cleans the toilets at all, and Bromden notes there really wasn’t that much cleaning going on by the patients anywhere that week.... (full context)
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Bromden feels comforted by McMurphy’s ease, and feels as though the Combine doesn’t have the power... (full context)
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...is playing a long con against Nurse Ratched, and that’s why he didn’t speak up—but Bromden heard him speaking with the lifeguard and knows the truth. Bromden thinks that McMurphy is... (full context)
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...and asks if Nurse Ratched is just going to let him suffer out of spite. Bromden notes that Nurse Ratched knows, like everyone else on the ward knows, that Sefelt refuses... (full context)
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...back to the ward across the grounds, McMurphy lags behind the others, smoking a cigarette. Bromden drops back to walk with him, wanting to tell him not to worry. McMurphy asks... (full context)
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Nurse Ratched ends the discussion. McMurphy shrugs and stretches as he stands up. Bromden says he can see it’s too late to stop McMurphy from whatever he’s going to... (full context)
Part Three
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Bromden wants to sign up but he doesn’t have the money and also doesn’t want to... (full context)
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Soon after, Geever, a night aide, wakes Bromden and McMurphy as he scrapes off gum from under Bromden’s bed. As Bromden pretends to... (full context)
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...mean things that everyone else had said about them, causing an uproar. McMurphy wonders if Bromden is doing the same thing, but Bromden says he’s too “little” to do something like... (full context)
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McMurphy responds that Bromden is physically huge, but Bromden says he inherited his size from his father, a Chief,... (full context)
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Bromden feels a sudden warmth towards McMurphy where he wants to touch him just because he’s... (full context)
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Before Bromden can act, McMurphy says Bromden should come on the fishing trip. Bromden says he’s broke.... (full context)
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...just watches and laughs. The patients look foolish trying to reel in their fish, and Bromden cuts his thumb. McMurphy can’t stop laughing, and Bromden realizes it’s because he knows that... (full context)
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...car to look at the halibut he caught. Only McMurphy stays behind, saying he’s tired. Bromden notes that on the way back to the ward they had taken a detour at... (full context)
Part Four
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Bromden says he never felt suspicious about McMurphy until an event with the control panel. McMurphy... (full context)
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...putrid salve. McMurphy loses his temper and gets into a fistfight with the aides, and Bromden joins in on the fight. At the fight’s end, all of the patients are congratulating... (full context)
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Bromden and McMurphy are assigned beds next to each other, but Bromden isn’t tied down. He... (full context)
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...that “those Chinese Commies could have learned a few things from you, lady.” McMurphy and Bromden are sent to the Shock Shop. McMurphy doesn’t seem afraid, so Bromden resolves not to... (full context)
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...the cross-shaped table without help, and asks if he’ll receive a complimentary “crown of thorns.” Bromden watches McMurphy receive treatment, and out of instinct tries to escape and struggles against the... (full context)
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...old spark in him would return, Nurse Ratched would come up and order another round. Bromden tries to talk McMurphy into playing along so they’ll stop the treatments, but McMurphy jokes... (full context)
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...nearly ready to go, but he wants to do it with all the red tape. Bromden says he doesn’t know where he wants to go yet. Harding promises McMurphy that the... (full context)
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...morning staff gets to the ward. Turkle falls asleep, though, and the aides discover everyone. Bromden says that what happens next was inevitable, whether McMurphy had escaped or not. Even if... (full context)
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...Charles Cheswick. She accuses McMurphy of playing God. She heads back to the nurse’s station. Bromden watches McMurphy and says he knows that there is nothing that could have stopped him... (full context)
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...George Sorenson transferred. After a few weeks, only three of the fishing crew were left: Bromden, Martini, and Scanlon (full context)
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...reading “Lobotomy.” The men don’t believe that it’s him at first; he’s a complete vegetable. Bromden was sure that McMurphy would never have his name attached to a body stored like... (full context)
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Following Scanlon’s advice that he should run, Bromden lifts the control panel and throws it through the window. He can hear aides running... (full context)