Chapter One: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is narrated by Chief Bromden (also known as Chief Broom), a mute Indian known for mopping the mental institution where he is confined. The black boys in white suits who work in the ward mock Chief Broom; they think that he is deaf and dumb and cannot hear them. Nurse Ratched (also known as Big Nurse) enters. Her lips and her fingernails are both a funny color of orange, and she carries a woven wicker bag filled with pills, needles, wire and forceps. She moves with precise, automatic gestures. Her face is smooth and calculated, but she has large breasts that seem out of place. She orders the black boys to shave Chief Bromden, who quickly disappears. As he hides, he thinks about his father and the Columbia River. One of the black boys finds him, and they start to shave him.
He hallucinates that there is an Air Raid and that the fog machine starts again.
Analysis: In the first chapter, Kesey sets up the structure of the mental institution where the novel takes place. The authority figure is clearly Nurse Ratched, as yet known only as Big Nurse, a woman whose characteristics seem barely human. Kesey makes everything about Nurse Ratched mechanical and automated, such as her robotic movements and precise speech. She is a symbol of bureaucracy and authority in general. However, even within this first chapter there are indications that behind this seemingly inhuman faÃÂ§ade there is some great instability. Chief Bromden seems to believe that Nurse Ratched is ready to snap at the black boys at any moment, and her large breasts, the one incongruous part of her appearance, show that she is incapable of fully separating herself from normal human characteristics.
The 'black boys,' the workers at the institution, serve Nurse Ratched out of fear; however, their most prominent characteristic is a complete hatred for all around them. Unlike Nurse Ratched, they are sadistic, if only because Nurse Ratched is incapable of feeling any pleasure from the pain she inflicts. This makes them a more immediate danger to patients such as Chief Bromden, but also more vulnerable. They suffer from the same human failings that Nurse Ratched has suppressed.
Although Chief Bromden is the narrator of the tale, his descriptions cannot be fully trusted. He is obviously unreliable, as shown when he hallucinates the Air Raid and the fog machine. The fog represents Bromden's own mental clarity; it will recur whenever Chief Bromden becomes less stable and recede whenever he becomes more coherent. It is significant that Chief Bromden is silent, for he represents the more passive elements of society that submit to authority (Nurse Ratched).