Bromden, the first-person narrator of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, is half Native American and fought during World War II. He has been in the Oregon psychiatric hospital longer than any other patient. Though everyone in the hospital thinks Bromden is deaf and dumb, he can hear and speak just fine. Bromden suffers from schizophrenia and sees and hears things that are not really there. He believes that the world is controlled by the Combine, an organization that enforces conformity through the use of electronic installations in people's brains. Bromden is plagued by a cold, white fog that cuts him off from the rest of the world when he is agitated or depressed. The rumor around the ward is that he has had more than 200 treatments in the so-called Shock Shop.
Randle P. McMurphy was transferred from a prison work camp to the psychiatric hospital after being labeled a psychopath by his camp supervisor. He is a larger-than-life character, a freewheeling gambler and con artist who can find laughter in even the darkest of situations. His cowboy-esque swagger and relaxed drawl give him the air of a ne'er-do-well hero, which he quickly becomes after vowing to destroy Nurse Ratched's calm facade. He starts as the ward's ringleader, becomes an unwilling hero, and ends his time at the hospital as a martyr.
Nurse Ratched, a former army nurse, has worked in the field of psychiatric medicine for 20 years. She runs her ward like a dictatorship. Patients and staff alike are afraid of her icy tone and disapproving glares. She maintains order in her ward by subtly preying on her patients' insecurities and fears. When she is unable to control a patient, she resorts to torturous treatments such as electroshock therapy and lobotomies. At 50, she hides all traces of her femininity except her large breasts, which Bromden refers to as a "mistake in manufacturing."