Yet it seems I have been accused of a multitude of things, of jealousy and paranoia, of not being man enough to satisfy my wife, of having relations with male friends of mine, of holding my cigarette in an affected manner, even—it seems to me—accused of having nothing between my legs but a patch of hair—and soft and downy and blond hair at that! Ball-cutter? Oh, you underestimate her!
In McMurphy’s first meeting with a fellow patient, Harding explains Nurse Ratched’s tactics of making insinuations about the men. In recounting her treatment of him, he reveals his gay sexual orientation, her recriminations intended to belittle him as a man in everyone’s eyes. His ironic observations indicate his astuteness. Harding is not just college educated and well spoken, he understands exactly how Nurse Ratched operates to keep control of the ward.
Oh, don’t misunderstand me, we’re not in here because we are rabbits—we’d be rabbits wherever we were—we’re all in here because we can’t adjust to our rabbithood. We need a good strong wolf like the nurse to teach us our place.
When McMurphy accuses the men of being chickens, pecking at each other, Harding responds with the metaphor of the men as rabbits. Nurse Ratched represents the strong wolf who has the right to dominate them in the natural order of life. Harding’s words reflect his view that society offers no place for weak men such as himself and that they belong in a protected area like the mental ward.
“It’s still a risk, my friend. She always has the capacity to make things worse for us. A baseball game isn’t worth the risk,” Harding says.
When McMurphy proposes voting to exchange the work and TV schedule so the men can watch the World Series, Harding rejects his notion for fear of Nurse Ratched’s reaction. Even though he serves as the patient representative, Harding fails to stand up for their rights or share their voice. He understands that Nurse Ratched can be vindictive, underscoring her unsuitability to be in charge of a group of unstable men, but he will not challenge her.
“I, however, have a plan.” Harding said. He got to his feet. He said McMurphy was obviously too far gone to handle the situation himself and someone else would have to take over. As he talked he stood straighter and became more sober. He spoke in an earnest and urgent voice, and his hands shaped what he said. I was glad he was there to take over.
Toward the end of the party, Harding takes responsibility to ensure that the men don’t get in trouble and suffer at Nurse Ratched’s hands for their actions. While McMurphy usually takes charge, he seems to care little for repercussions. Harding knows that the men need a rational, sane voice, and he willingly steps into the role of their new leader.
I’ll be ready in a few weeks. But I want to do it on my own, by myself, right out that front door with all the traditional red tape and complications. I want my wife to be here in a car at a certain time to pick me up. I want them to know I was able to do it that way.
In response to McMurphy’s suggestion that Harding leave with him, Harding says that he feels almost ready to leave but won’t do so by sneaking out. He will leave as a man, not a rabbit, a man with the sanity and power to demand his freedom. Only then can he prove to himself that he has the strength—and the right—to live on the outside again.