McMurphy: “Jesus, 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.
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