One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

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Dale Harding Character Analysis

College-educated patient. Helps McMurphy learn the ropes of the ward. Harding is a homosexual, but the social pressure to be straight cripples him. He is married, but he prefers to commit himself to the hospital rather than face prejudice or the anger of his wife. After McMurphy is lobotomized, Harding checks himself out of the ward.

Dale Harding Quotes in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

The One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest quotes below are all either spoken by Dale Harding or refer to Dale Harding. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Sanity v. Insanity Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest published in 2002.
Part One Quotes

This world…belongs to the strong, my friend! The ritual of our existence is based on the strong getting stronger by devouring the weak. We must face up to this. Nor more than right that it should be this way. We must learn to accept it as a law of the natural world. The rabbits accept their role in the ritual and recognize the wolf as the strong. In defense, the rabbit becomes sly and frightened and elusive and he digs holes and hides when the wolf is about. And he endures, he goes on. He knows his place. He most certainly doesn’t challenge the wolf to combat. Now, would that be wise? Would it?

Related Characters: Dale Harding (speaker)
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

Dale Harding is the hospital's intellectual, and yet he's also totally submissive to the established order. As we can see, Harding believes that power is the only real justice in life; everyone should accept their place in society, depending on how strong or weak they are. There is a natural order in the universe, visible in all forms of life from rabbits up to human beings, and Harding sees no reason to disrupt such a natural order.

Harding's emphasis on nature and order turns out to be self-defeating, since he's gay, and therefore--in the judgment of his society, and seemingly in his own self-hating worldview--a violator of the "natural biological order." Moreover, it's surprising that Harding is so willing to accept the corrupt authority of the nurses in his hospital--he's smart enough to see that they're tyrannical, but not willing to challenge their tyranny. Harding is, in short, a frustrated, self-hating man, who knows that he's being treated unfairly by his society, and yet lacks the strength to do something about it.

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Part Two Quotes

Tell me why. You gripe, you bitch for weeks on end about how you can’t stand this place, can’t stand the nurse or anything about her, and all the time you ain’t committed. I can understand it with some of those old guys on the ward. They’re nuts. But you, you’re not exactly the everyday man on the street, but you’re not nuts.

Related Characters: Randle P. McMurphy (speaker), Dale Harding, Billy Bibbit, Sefelt
Page Number: 167
Explanation and Analysis:

McMurphy has just learned that he’s involuntarily committed to the mental hospital until the nurses deem him fit to return to society. Furthermore, he discovers that the majority of the patients in the hospital are there voluntarily—they could leave at any time. McMurphy is shocked with the patients’ attitude: he naturally assumed that they were involuntarily committed, since no one would voluntarily live with Nurse Ratched and then complain about her so much. McMurphy ends his quotation with a reminder that he sees his peers as human beings, not “crazy people.” Even if Harding and Billy aren’t exactly average people, they’re perfectly capable of running their own lives.

The implicit answer to McMurphy’s question is that the patients lack the courage and determination to live without Nurse Ratched behind them. They hate a tyrannical, domineering woman controlling their lives, but they’re too cowardly to try anything else.

Part Three Quotes

Never before did I realize that mental illness could have the aspect of power, power. Think of it: perhaps the more insane a man is, the more powerful he could become. Hitler an example. Fair makes the old brain reel, doesn’t it? Food for thought there.

Related Characters: Dale Harding (speaker)
Page Number: 204
Explanation and Analysis:

In this section, Harding makes a provocative point about mental illness: it can be a source of strength. As we’ve seen, the patients in the hospital think of their mental illness as a disability—they’re docile, meek, and generally childish. But Harding wants to argue that mental illness is a reason to be strong, not weak. Insanity, he explains, can provide a man with a vision that gives him power—Adolf Hitler is a disturbing but perhaps effective example.

While Harding doesn’t clarify his thoughts in much detail, it’s important to recognize that mental illness can provide the patient with a sense of insight and clarity lacking in most sane people. For example, Chief Bromden, even if his hallucinations of fog and electrical controls aren't literally true, has a way of seeing the world in its true, spiritual form—for example, even if there isn’t literal fog in the hospital, the hospital is clogged with the metaphorical fog of obscurantism and tyranny. Harding’s speech, then, illustrates the influence McMurphy has had on the hospital—he’s encouraged the patients to band together against Ratched, no longer so ashamed of their mental problems.

Part Four Quotes

She tried to get her ward back into shape, but it was difficult with McMurphy’s presence still tromping up and down the halls and laughing out loud in the meetings and singing in the latrines. She couldn’t rule with her old power any more, not by writing things on pieces of paper. She was losing her patients one after the other. After Harding signed out and was picked up by his wife, and George transferred to a different ward, just three of us were left out of the group that had been on the fishing crew, myself and Martini and Scanlon.

Related Characters: Chief Bromden (speaker), Randle P. McMurphy, Nurse Ratched, Dale Harding, George Sorenson, Martini, Scanlon
Related Symbols: Laughter
Page Number: 277
Explanation and Analysis:

After McMurphy attacks Nurse Ratched, her authority is broken forever. McMurphy is severely punished for his actions, as we’ll see. And yet by attacking Nurse Ratched, he accomplishes exactly what he wanted to: he liberates the patients of the hospital from Nurse Ratched’s tyranny. Like many a martyr, McMurphy is more powerful absent than present: in person McMurphy was a threat to Ratched’s power; now that he’s been sent away, the idea of McMurphy acts as a constant, 24/7 attack on Ratched.

The effects of Nurse Ratched’s loss of power are obvious: her patients leave. One by one, they regain certainty that they can control their own lives, and don’t need Ratched telling them what to do. Some, such as the Chief himself, remain behind, but by and large it’s clear that Ratched can no longer convince her subjects to obey her.

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Dale Harding Character Timeline in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

The timeline below shows where the character Dale Harding appears in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part One
Sanity v. Insanity Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
Social Pressure and Shame Theme Icon
The Combine: Machine, Nature, and Man Theme Icon
Emasculation and Sexuality Theme Icon
...in charge so that he, himself, can take over. Billy says he supposes it’s Dale Harding, the president of the Patient’s Council who Bromden notes has effeminate good looks suited for... (full context)
Sanity v. Insanity Theme Icon
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The Combine: Machine, Nature, and Man Theme Icon
Emasculation and Sexuality Theme Icon
...group meeting takes place and Nurse Ratched brings up what they had discussed on Friday: Harding’s relationship with his wife. Nurse Ratched goes into detail about overheard conversations Harding has had... (full context)
Sanity v. Insanity Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
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Emasculation and Sexuality Theme Icon
...p.m. the group meeting is still in session and the patients are “tearing into poor Harding.” When the session ends, everyone looks ashamed of how they talked about Harding, after spending... (full context)
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Harding agrees, after some convincing, that McMurphy is right, just that no one has ever dared... (full context)
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Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
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Emasculation and Sexuality Theme Icon
Harding says that the world belongs to the strong and the strong destroy the weak. It’s... (full context)
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Emasculation and Sexuality Theme Icon
Harding continues with this line of thinking and asserts that the only way to show dominance... (full context)
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Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
The Combine: Machine, Nature, and Man Theme Icon
...up to beat up one of the aides if he doesn’t turn it down but Harding says that’s the kind of behavior that will get him shock treatment. Bromden, as if... (full context)
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...game of Monopoly that has been going on for three days with Cheswick, Martini, and Harding. McMurphy adds pennies to the game to raise the stakes so it’s more of a... (full context)
Part Two
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
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Harding’s wife comes for a visit to the ward. Harding does not appear in any way... (full context)
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Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
The Combine: Machine, Nature, and Man Theme Icon
Emasculation and Sexuality Theme Icon
...One. Across the hall from the X-ray office are those for electroshock therapy. McMurphy asks Harding what goes on in there, and Harding explains the Shock Shop (EST). Harding says it... (full context)
Sanity v. Insanity Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
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The Combine: Machine, Nature, and Man Theme Icon
Emasculation and Sexuality Theme Icon
...it put him in with Nurse Ratched: shock treatment, lobotomy, not being able to leave. Harding shocks McMurphy by responding that Scanlon is the only other Acute on the ward who... (full context)
Part Three
Sanity v. Insanity Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
Social Pressure and Shame Theme Icon
The Combine: Machine, Nature, and Man Theme Icon
...just to “keep yourself in balance,” so that “the humor will blot out the pain.” Harding starts laughing too, and then Scanlon, and Candy, Sefelt, Dr. Spivey, and everyone else too. (full context)
Part Four
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
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...Some of the men seem slightly swayed by the logic of her argument, but later Harding says that McMurphy has always made it very clear that he’s a con-man, and if... (full context)
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The Combine: Machine, Nature, and Man Theme Icon
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As morning approaches, Harding becomes adamant that McMurphy’s must now escape and that they must do something about the... (full context)
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Social Pressure and Shame Theme Icon
...out, and McMurphy has the opportunity to escape with her, but he refuses even though Harding begs him to go, saying he’s done his best to warn him—“predicting doom.” An aide... (full context)
Sanity v. Insanity Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
Social Pressure and Shame Theme Icon
The Combine: Machine, Nature, and Man Theme Icon
Emasculation and Sexuality Theme Icon
...change a lot of policy: the tub room is restored to the blackjack room and Harding took over the role of dealer. When Nurse Ratched returns, everyone approaches her in the... (full context)
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
The Combine: Machine, Nature, and Man Theme Icon
...and singing in the showers. Patients keep signing themselves out of the ward, and then Harding signed out and was picked up by his wife. George Sorenson transferred. After a few... (full context)