- The Big Guy: Tall, very strong and handy in a fight.
- The Cuckoolander Was Right: See Unreliable Narrator below. McMurphy puts it best after Bromden explains his history. Chief asks if he sounds insane due to all of his blatant metaphors and borderline rambling. Mac says yes. Then he adds:"I said you were talking crazy, Chief. I didn't say you weren't making sense."
- Elective Mute: Ostensibly deaf-mute, though eventually reveals to McMurphy that he's faking it. He recalls that after being treated like an idiot for so long, he decided his opinion didn't matter anymore and became ridiculously withdrawn.
- First-Person Peripheral Narrator: He's telling the story, but McMurphy is the main character.
- Gentle Giant: Here, it's played for drama. Bromden was rowdier in his youth, but an oppressive modern society wore him down over the years. He sees himself as a small man, despite being 6'7" (2 meters). He notes that his father, once a big, proud Native American, was similarly rendered weak by his domineering Caucasian wife.
- Mercy Kill: Once he realizes that Randle has been lobotomized into being mentally weak and docile, he strangles him to prevent him from living this undignified life.
- Mind-Control Conspiracy: Chief Bromden believes that Nurse Ratched, the hospital PR man, and others are part of "The Combine", an oppressive all-knowing evil organization reminiscent of The Party from 1984.
- Took a Level in Badass: McMurphy, hating to see Bromden's size go to waste, puts him in a "training program" to get him in shape. His newfound strength allows him to help Mac in a fight against Ratched's aides, and later break out of the ward after euthanizing McMurphy.
- Unreliable Narrator: Due to his schizophrenia, much of his narration is not only hard to believe, but outright bizarre. With that said, he's aware of his own fondness for metaphors. Also, his dreams are prophetic; he finds that a fellow patient has died in his sleep after seeing a gruesome vision of his murder.
- The Voiceless: In the movie, but he starts talking after the reveal.
- You Just Told Me: How does McMurphy find out Chief wasn't deaf? One night, he runs through the ward warning patients that the asshole orderlies are coming. Chief pretends to sleep in response, meaning he heard everything McMurphy said. Mac noticed.
Randle Patrick McMurphy
- Adaptation Dye-Job: Red-haired in the book, black-haired in the movie.
- Boisterous Bruiser: Loudly sings in the middle of a mental ward? Check. Beats up the orderlies in the middle of a mental ward? Check.
- Fiery Redhead: Although he's played by the brunette Jack Nicholson in the film adaptation.
- Fun with Acronyms: Randle Patrick McMurphy, R.P.M., is in constant, often circular (metaphorical) motion.
- Insanity Defense: He pretends to be insane so he can be sent to the asylum and avoid prison. Backfires horribly considering that the planned time in jail wasn't as long as he thought. That, and the fact that the asylum will lead to his death.
- Last-Name Basis: Mac is friendly with all the patients but addresses them by their last names, and vice versa. Compare this to Nurse Ratched, who calls them by their given names but only pretends to be friendly.
- Messianic Archetype: Surprisingly. He's the savior of the ward who sacrifices himself to combat an oppressive establishment. The symbolism is hammered in when Mac is subjected to electroshock therapy. Characters point out that the shock treatment machine, which has the patient lie down on a cross-shaped platform, evokes Jesus' crucifixion.
- Only Sane Man: A downplayed example. Most of the other characters aren't exactly crazy, but McMurphy is the first person on the ward to openly acknowledge the brutality of Nurse Ratched's treatment program. The rest of them knew this...they just didn't talk about it.
- Politically Incorrect Hero / Unscrupulous Hero: Loud, obnoxious, casually racist and sexist, has no qualms about conning his fellow patients out of their money...did we mention the statutory charges? But he's the only one even trying to put an end to Ratched's tyranny.
- Real Men Wear Pink: In contrast to Harding, who is ashamed of his effeminacy, the hypermasculine McMurphy has no problem doing "frilly" things like painting pictures.
- Sir Swears-a-Lot: He's shown to drop quite a bit of f-bombs and other forms of profanity. Even more so than any of the other characters.
- 10-Minute Retirement: At one point, Mac learns that since he's committed, Ratched can keep him in the ward indefinitely, so he decides to behave, to his friends' chagrin. This sticks until he learns that most of the other patients aren't committed; they could leave any time, but have been so cowed by Ratched that they don't want to. To show them that life is worth living, McMurphy resolves to redouble his efforts in messing with the Big Nurse.
- Vorpal Pillow: After he's lobotomized into a vegetative state, Chief does this to end his misery.
One of the younger and more innocent men in the asylum. Shy, stuttering and having socializing issues. He looks up to McMurphy like a big brother.
- Alliterative Name: Billy Bibbit.
- The Cutie: He's a sweet, cute young man in his 20s and one of the more pleasant characters. It makes his suicide all the more sad.
- Broken Bird: He is adorable until you realize that he is a grown adult in an asylum, making his case a lot sadder.
- Driven to Suicide: After the Nurse threatens to tell his mother of his sexual escapades.
- Emotional Regression: He is chronically shy, soft-spoken, emasculated, with an intense fear of his mother and an unrelenting stutter. With the help of McMurphy, he manages to have sex for the first time, losing his virginity and gaining the confidence of a man. However, they were supposed to escape from the mental hospital and ended up falling asleep. When Nurse Ratched returns, she calls him out and attempts to shame him. He says in perfect and unhesitant English that he's proud of himself and isn't having any of it. Then she says she's going to tell his mother...
- Extreme Doormat: He is unable to get angry and always try to satisfy everyone, resulting in him getting constantly manipulated and can't find the time to follow his dreams. He eventually shows oppositon by committing suicide.
- Innocent Blue Eyes: Has pretty, wide blue eyes and is the most innocent and naive of the guys.
- My Beloved Smother: Ms. Bibbit treats her adult son like a fragile child and has no qualms about it. Ratched, who is friends with her, manipulates and torments the poor guy by threatening to tell his mother what he's done.
- Older Than They Look: Billy is by no means old, but his boyish looks and timid personality make him seem a lot younger than he actually is.
- Speech Impediment: He's got a pretty bad stutter. He grimly jokes that he's been stuttering since he could talk. When he loses his virginity, it goes away until Ratched threatens to tell his mother what happened.
- Stutter Stop: After making-out and growing in confidence, his stutter disappears.
- Played By: Sydney Lassick
- Alliterative Name: Charles Cheswick.
- Boisterous Weakling: In a sense. Cheswick is loud and demanding but does not have the guts or know-how to make things happen. Indeed, the reason he clings to McMurphy is because Mac has what it takes to see things through.
- Driven to Suicide: Let's just say he takes Mac's decision to quit trolling Ratched rather hard. During an exercise session at the ward's pool, he drowns himself... This is only in the novel, though. Cheswick survives the film.
- Large Ham: He generally behaves like Curly Howard of The Three Stooges, but his outburst over having the cigarettes rationed (because as Nurse Ratched points out, McMurphy cons the rest of the patients out of them) is genuinely frightening.
- Spared by the Adaptation: He surives in the movie. This is done to makes Billy's suicide standing out more.
- Took A Levelin Badass: Cheswick seemingly becomes more confident due to McMurphy's influence. Unfortunately, he falls into despair the minute it's made clear McMurphy won't be standing up for him anymore.
- Played By: William Redfield
- Adaptational Wimp: In the book Harding, while pompous and perhaps overly verbose, was still quite clever and insightful, coming up with excellent ideas and giving some very cutting lectures about the situation of the hospital and McMurphy. In the film he's more of a straightforward Butt-Monkey.
- Ambiguously Gay / Transparent Closet: These are played with throughout the book; Harding committed himself because he couldn't deal with being gay. In the stage version, where his wife is an unseen character, he tilts more to the ambiguous side. In the book, more to the transparent.
- Mr. Exposition: Harding is well-informed about procedures and patients alike, and spends a lot of his time teaching McMurphy and the reader about how things go down in Nurse Ratched's ward.
- Pretty Boy: Bromden continually calls Harding a "pretty man" with movie-star looks and delicate-looking hands. This is downplayed considerably in the film, where he is portrayed as average looking.
- Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness / Spock Speak: Harding is the most educated patient in the ward. He'll let you know that with every other statement out of his mouth.
- The Smart Guy: Given the above? Naturally.
- Played By: Danny DeVito
A docile, mentally disabled short man.
- Funny Schizophrenia: In the book it's much more explicit that he sees and hears things, but this is mostly played for laughs, mostly because of how Martini and the others are unbothered by it.
- Only One Name: Only known as Martini.
- Perpetual Smiler: He likes to smile a lot.
- Played By: Christopher Lloyd
A surly, committed patient who causes the most disruption after McMurphy.
- Ascended Extra: In the book, Taber was a past patient mentioned a few times by Chief. In the film adaptation, he is a main character on the ward while McMurphy is there.
- The Bully: Can be abrasive, but seems quiet and reserved when not in those moods.
- Composite Character: In the film, Taber gets much of his dialogue, personality, and being one of the only patients committed, from Scanlon's character from the book.
- Large Ham: Along with Motor Mouth.
- "Oh, Crap!" Smile: When he is caught by Nurse Ratched in the mess left by the party last night.
- Jerkass: Mostly to Harding.
James "Jim" Sefelt and Bruce Fredrickson
- Played By: William Duell and Vincent Schiavelli
- Ambiguous Disorder: In the book, they are both epileptic, with Sefelt-who refuses his medication- often having seizures on the ward. In the film, their problem is not stated even with the medication refusal remaining.
- Adaptation Personality Change: In the book, Fredrickson was talkative and argumentative towards McMurphy and the staff. He also had blond hair.
- Body Horror: Sefelt refuses to take his medication because it make his hair and teeth fall out. In the book-after a seizure-a couple of his teeth come out with the stick the orderly put in his mouth.
- Intergenerational Friendship: Are very close in spite of the age difference. At the time, Vincent Schiavelli was 27 and William Duell was 52.
- No Senseof Personal Space: Fredrickson touches and is close to Sefelt a lot of the time, which the older man doesnt seem to mind.
- One Head Taller: Fredrickson being played by 65 Vincent Schiavelli didnt help.
- The Quiet One: Though he is shown whispering to Sefelt at times, Fredrickson talks the least out of all the men there. In the book, Sefelt actually spoke the least.
- Those Two Guys: Contrasting and inseparable.
Nurse Mildred Ratched
- Adaptational Nice Guy: Downplayed. She seems more sympathetic in the movie adaption but still keeps her antagonistic role.
- Battleaxe Nurse: One of the most famous examples in all of fiction; her name is almost synonymous with the concept of a scumbag nurse.
- Big Bad: The antagonist who opposes McMurphy throughout the story.
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: In front of her superiors, she comes across as polite and humble.
- Defeat by Modesty: When assaulted by Randle, he rips her shirt off, exposing her breasts to everyone.
- The Dreaded: Nearly everyone on the ward is afraid of her.
- D-Cup Distress: The novel repeatedly notes that Ratched has an ample bosom. It's said that she resents her breasts because they represent her femininity, and thus her human, vulnerable side.
- Faux Affably Evil: She's very good at playing nice when it suits her purposes, whether it be to earn the adoration of her colleagues or to manipulate her patients.
- Humiliation Conga: McMurphy, driven to the edge, nearly strangles Ratched to death. He also rips her shirt off, exposing her huge breasts to everyone. When she returns to work, her voice is screwed up and the patients no longer take her seriously.
- Iron Lady: In the hospital, her power is absolute; there's nobody willing or able to challenge her authority. Then a certain red-headed Irishman shows up.
- I Was Quite a Looker: Ratched is described as a "handsome" woman. Early in the story, Harding and McMurphy concede that she was likely very beautiful in her prime.
- Manipulative Bastard: McMurphy is the first to point out how good she is at subtle emasculation, though the others are fully aware of it. She knows her patients' (and a doctor's) weaknesses so well that even hinting at them is enough to keep the men in line.
- Married to the Job: Her life revolves around her job of nurse more than anything.
- Non-Action Big Bad: She needn't lift a finger when threats, humiliation, and her goon squad of aides work just fine. In the book, at least, she's fairly old. When McMurphy finally snaps and strangles her, she can't do a thing about it.
- Repressive, but Efficient: This is how Ratched's superiors view her special brand of treatment. As long as the patients are kept in line, who cares about her methods, right?
- The Sociopath: More so in the book.
- Tranquil Fury: She's very easy to anger, but she rarely acts overtly hostile. Harding notes that this helps her in dealing with the patients: Ratched's uncanny grace under fire makes her targets lose their resolve. Even after McMurphy shows up, she generally reacts to his antics with subtle, silly tics that only Bromden notices.
- Adaptational Nice Guy: Downplayed in the movie, which doesn't give their characters much development and makes them seem less cruel.
- Adapted Out: Williams is not present in the movie.
- Added Alliterative Appeal: Williams, Warren and Washington.
- Angry Black Man: Williams after witnessing his mother raped by a white man.
- Go-Karting with Bowser: When Washington and the others orderlies start playing basketball with the interns.
- Last-Name Basis: He is only called by his last name, and himself does the same for everyone.
- Married to the Job: Not much to their choice since the job calls for them to stay in the asylum in permanence.
- Only One Name: They are only known by their last name.
- Orderlies Are Creeps: He was hired by Ratched purposefully because he is filled with hate and shows no concerns for the patients.
- Sadist: They deliberately enjoy messing with the interns.
- Drinking on Duty: Being stuck in the asylum, it's hard for him to get alcohol. That's why he accepts the gift of McMurphy. Later, he starts drinking knowing his job will be over.
- Drowning My Sorrows: After the interns mess up his office, knowing he will inevitably be caught for what he did, he starts drinking to forget the anguish.
- Food as Bribe: In this case, drinks.
- "Oh, Crap!" Smile: When Nurse Ratched caught him in his messy office after letting the acutes make a night party.