Animals are frequently used to represent characters in the novel. The Chief sees the caretakers as dogs "smelling and...hunting around" after the patients (Pt.1,Sec.1). Nurse Ratched at the control panel is a spider "in the center of (a) web of wires"; a leader is called a "bull goose", and the leader of the patient ward is the "bull goose looney" (Pt.1,Sec.4).
By using animal imagery, the author develops a theme correlating the hospital and society with conditions in the animal world. Harding describes a Darwinian environment where survival "belongs to the strong...as a law of the natural world". In the established hierarchy, patients are rabbits who endure by "(digging) holes and (hiding) when the wolf is about". The wolf, of course, is Miss Ratched, who keeps the rabbits in their places by constantly reminding them of their inadequacies, and "grinding (their) nose(s)" in their mistakes as one would train a wayward dog. Miss Ratched also maintains control by manipulating the patients to turn on each other under the ritualistic cover of group therapy sessions. The patients are encouraged to behave like a flock of chickens who get "sight of a spot of blood on some chicken and they all go to peckin' at it...till they rip the chicken to shreds" (Ch.1,Sec.5).