I mean you guys do nothing but complain about how you can’t stand
it in this place here and then you haven’t got the guts just to
walk out? What do you think you are for Christ sake, crazy or something?
Well, you’re not! You’re not! You’re no crazier than the average asshole
out walking around on the streets.”
After McMurphy accuses the men of betrayal,
they explain that they are almost all “voluntary” rather than “committed”
like him. McMurphy is filled with disbelief that any man would choose repression
over freedom, particularly a young man in his prime like Billy Bibbit.
By exhorting Billy to be out in a convertible, chasing girls, McMurphy
extols the virtues of living life to its fullest potential. In these
lines, McMurphy expresses three pivotal concepts: courage, free
will, and the definition of sanity. When he tells the men they don’t
have the guts to walk out when they can, he challenges their courage—a
characteristic often associated with manhood.
McMurphy himself displays courage every time he opposes Nurse
Ratched’s authority. Physical courage enables him to jump the fence
and hijack a bus to take the men fishing. Mental courage empowers
him to invent a World Series game in defiance of Nurse Ratched.
His actions consistently demonstrate the importance of courage in
the fight against tyranny. By choosing to oppose repression, McMurphy
also demonstrates freedom of choice, or free will—a concept important
in Christian belief. Free will allows humans to choose between good
and evil. When McMurphy discovers that the patients have elected
to subject themselves to the institution voluntarily, he reminds
them that they have a choice. For emphasis, he invokes “Christ’s
sake.” McMurphy implies that the choice to stay in subjugation is
immoral—an act against the free will that God has granted humankind.
He goes on to assert that these men are no more insane
than the average man, and indeed the question of sanity is central
to the film. This line sets up the quirky individualism of the patients
against the rigid conformity of Nurse Ratched. When McMurphy tells
the men they are no crazier than the average man on the street,
he denies Nurse Ratched’s version of normality. Hers is confined
to a narrow range of behavior carefully conscripted by rules—her
rules. A docile and sedated patient is her ideal. She employs drugs,
nighttime restraints, and lullaby-like music to keep her charges
in that state. To ensure their compliance, she uses the orderlies
to discipline and subdue them. In contrast, McMurphy’s definition
of normality is as broad as the world and allows for great variation.
He makes fun of society’s labels for the insane, affectionately
referring to the patients as “lunatics” or “mental defectives” and
to himself as the “bull goose loony.” When they act like men, however,
he gives them new labels, as when he tells Martini he’s no longer
a loony but a fisherman. By denying that the men are crazy, McMurphy
refutes Nurse Ratched’s definition of sanity. He challenges the
men directly to exercise their free will to live fully and with
courage, and he dares them to reject the institution’s oppression
of those aims.