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Randle McMurphy

Jack Nicholson as Randle Patrick "Mac" McMurphy in the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Miloš Forman 1975).

Randle Patrick "Mac" McMurphy, known as R.P. McMurphy, is the protagonist of Ken Kesey's novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1962). He appears in the stage and film adaptations of the novel as well. Jack Nicholson portrayed Randle Patrick McMurphy in the film adaption, earning him an Academy Award for Best Actor. He is nominated on the "Heroes" list of AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains, but did not make the final list. He was ranked by Empire as the 61st Greatest Movie Character of All Time.[1]


  • Fictional character biography 1
  • Critical response 2
  • In other media 3
  • References 4
  • Notes 5

Fictional character biography

McMurphy is an Irish-American brawler found guilty of battery and gambling He is a Korean War veteran who was a POW during the war and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for leading a breakout from a Chinese camp, but was dishonorably discharged for insubordination. He is sentenced to a fairly short prison term and decides to have himself declared insane in order to be transferred to a mental institution, where he expects to serve the rest of his time in (comparative) comfort and luxury.

McMurphy's ward in the mental institution is run by the tyrannical Nurse Ratched, who has cowed the patients into dejected submission. McMurphy makes it his mission to flout Ratched's regime of rules and punishment and to liberate the other patients from her grip.

During his short stay at the hospital, McMurphy forms deep friendships with two of his fellow patients: Billy Bibbit, a stuttering manchild whom Ratched has dominated into a suicidal mess; and Chief Bromden, a Native American. In the former, McMurphy sees a younger brother figure whom he wants to teach to have fun, while the latter is his only real confidant.

McMurphy becomes ensnared in a number of power-games with Nurse Ratched. He ends up as the clear winner, reminding the other patients how to enjoy life and stand up for themselves, and persuading them to act out against Ratched's bullying. Ratched unsuccessfully tries to break his spirit through repeated shock therapy treatments.

In the novel's climax, McMurphy sneaks two prostitutes into the ward to take Billy's virginity, while he and the others throw a party. Ratched catches them and threatens to tell Billy's mother—the only woman he fears more than her—which terrifies him so much that he commits suicide by slitting his throat. Enraged, McMurphy attacks Ratched and nearly strangles her, but is knocked unconscious by one of her associates. For this, Ratched has McMurphy lobotomized, which is to be seen as a kind of castration: "If she [Ratched] can’t cut below the belt she’ll do it above the eyes" (Kesey 108). Chief Bromden smothers McMurphy in an act of euthanasia, and then breaks a window to flee from the asylum, fulfilling McMurphy's wish for him to be free.

Critical response

Richard Gray, author of A History of American Literature, said that McMurphy is an "authentic American rebel", an urban cowboy, plain-speaking, hard-living, a gambler and a risk-taker," and "the hero" of the story.[2] Glen O. Gabbard and Krin Gabbard, authors of Psychiatry and the Cinema, write that McMurphy "becomes a Christ figure for whom shock therapy is the crown of thorns and lobotomy the cross".[3]

McMurphy’s domination of Ratched is described as a heroic sacrifice, for the redemption and freedom of the men of the ward.[4] When Ratched returns to the ward following the attack, she is bruised and fearful.[5]

In other media

McMurphy has been played on stage by Jérôme Pradon, Kirk Douglas, Leonard Nimoy, Aleksandr Abdulov, Gary Sinise, Christian Slater, Shane Ritchie, Roman Wilhelmi, (Polish adaptation), Salman Khan, Bernard Tapie (French adaptation), Ibrahim Amr, (Egyptian adaptation), Jiří Hrdina, (Czech adaptation), and most recently by Uri Meir.


  • Gabbard, Glen O. and Krin Gabbard. Psychiatry and the Cinema. American Psychiatric Pub, 1999. ISBN 0880489642, 9780880489645.
  • Géfin, Laszlo K. "The Breasts of Big Nurse: Satire versus Narrative in Kesey's "One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest"" Modern Language Studies Vol. 22.No. 1 (Winter 1992): 96-101.Modern Language Studies Web. Nov. 2014.
  • Gray, Richard. A History of American Literature. John Wiley & Sons, September 23, 2011. ISBN 1444345680, 9781444345681.
  • Inchausti, Robert. ""One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest": Rising to Heroism by M. Gilbert Porter." South Central Review, Vol. 7.No. 1 (1990): 102-04.The Johns Hopkins University Press on behalf of The South Central Modern Language Association. Web. Nov.-Dec. 2014.
  • Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Viking Press, 1962
  • Meloy, Michael. "Fixing Men: Castration, Impotence, and Masculinity in Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest." Journal of Men's Studies (2009): 3-14. Academic Search Premier. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.
  • Vitkus, Daniel J., and ﭬﻴﺘﻜﺲ ﺩﺍﻧﻴﺎﻝ. "Madness and Misogyny in Ken Kesey's One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest / ﺍﻟﺠﻨﻮﻥ ﻭﻧﺒﺬ ﺍﻟﻤﺮﺃﺓ ﻓﻲ ﺭﻭﺍﻳﺔ ﻛﻦ ﻛﻴﺴﻲ ﺍﻟﻄﻴﺮ ﻓﻮﻕ ﻋﺶ ﺍﻟﻮﻗﻮﺍﻕ." Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics No. 14.Madness and Civilization / الجنون والحضارة‎‎ (1994): 64-90. Department of English and Comparative Literature, American University in Cairo and American University in Cairo Press Web. 15 Nov. 2014.


  1. ^ "The 100 Greatest Movie Characters/ 61. R.P. McMurphy / Empire /". Empire. Bauer Consumer Media. Retrieved 2013-08-22. 
  2. ^ Gray 574
  3. ^ Gabbard and Gabbard, 18.
  4. ^ Inchausti, Robert (1990). One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest: Rising to Heroism by M. Gilbert Porter"'". South Central Review. Vol.7 (No.1): 102–04.  
  5. ^ Kesey, Ken (1962). One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, a Novel. New York: Viking. 
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