In Ken Keseys One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, laughter truly is the best medicine. Before McMurphys arrival, there was almost no laughter within the asylum, and the patients performed chores and daily routines like robots, without emotion. Upon McMurphy's arrival, however, the insensate mood of the patients took a turn for the better. With McMurphy's guidance, the patients learned to laugh at jokes and at themselves, eventually becoming able to correct their inadequacies. By learning their inner-strengths and interacting with each other in a consolidated manner, the patients were able to overpower Nurse Ratched and break her hold on them. As the story progresses, the patients realize their potential, overcome the belief that they are mentally ill, and eventually become able to live independent lives, all due to McMurphy and his laughter.
Mental health is defined as a state of psychological well-being in which an individual possesses the ability to function in society and meet the ordinary demands of everyday life. In such a society, "people freely, even humorously use these terms to not only define others, but themselves" (Leon). This may mean that people usually judge others relatively by their own mental state. As the patients in the ward share similar personalities, they believe that they are mentally ill, and this reflects their views on others around them and vice versa. McMurphy and his laughter help the patients realize that mental health is reflected by a view of oneself. When McMurphy first steps into the ward, all the patients immediately notice him as soon as his handcuffs are removed, because he jumps for joy and thanks the guards. McMurphy asks to see the "bullgoose loony" and wants to challenge him, giving McMurphy immediate popularity amongst many of the patients. He jokes around with everyone and the patients eventually grow to like him and start to lead different, more exciting lives. McMurphy's vitality is loved by many of the patients as his outlook on life is appealing (Tanner). The patients like McMurphy and associate with him, learning to laugh at jokes and to express themselves to others. The ability to express emotions is a valuable asset provided by McMurphy to the patients, as the patients use this newfound skill to loosen Ratched's hold on them.
Nurse Ratched wants everything in her ward running smoothly, to the extent that anything even remotely out of place frustrates her a great deal (Discovering Authors). She strikes fear in all of the patients until McMurphy is committed to the ward. As the story progresses, the patients express their wants and suggestions to Ratched, and when she does not accept, they circumnavigate her wishes and find a way to throw her off balance. This first occurs when McMurphy and the other patients want to watch the World Series and the nurse won't let them, calling for a majority vote. The patients are terrified of Ratched and many do not vote to watch it, but even with this setback, McMurphy sits in front of the TV and pretends to watch baseball on the TV screen. The patients find this extremely funny and chant out plays with him, using laughter to allow themselves to get closer to each other. Without McMurphy and his laughter, this would not have been possible, because the patients would not have dared to engage in such open emotion, as they were used to catering only to Ratched's commands.
McMurphy uses humor and laughter to battle Ratched in every opportunity he finds. When Ratched makes him clean the toilet bowls in the bathrooms, he scrubs them once and tells the black boy that the bowls are clean enough. The black boy pleads to Ratched and she personally inspects the toilets with a mirror and reprimands McMurphy, who replies only with wisecracks and laughter. He sings, dances, and makes comments that completely throw Ratched off balance. The patients see the effect that his actions have on Ratched, and like electrons attracting a proton, they follow, sticking with McMurphy whenever they have the chance. "McMurphy's singing, like his laughter, his booze, and his sexuality is capable of 'joggling the wiring in all the walls'" (Wallace). McMurphy persistently taunts the nurse and her attendants with wisecracks and laughter, succeeding in turning the ward against Ratched (Discovering Authors).