When Randle Patrick McMurphy enters the ward of the Oregon insance asylum he boasts that he will undermine the power of the person in charge. Soon he discerns that Nurse Ratched has dictatorial control of the ward, employing psychological intimidation, divide-and-conquer techniques, and physical abuse in order to maintain her dominance over the patients' lives. As her combatant, McMurphy begins his warfare against her as he tries by example to energize the other occupants of the ward to act as individuals who value their independence. Because of his crusade against the tyranny of complaince, the other patients perceive McMurphy as their "savior" in certain instances.
- In Chapter 9 of Part I, after talking privately with McMurphy, Dr. Spivey interrupts Nurse Ratched's routine and announces that he and McMurphy have decided that having a carnival would break the monotony for the patients. When the "Big Nurse" objects because the room cannot be used for such a purpose, with the urgings of McMurphy, the doctor overrides her objection saying that another room can be used.
- McMurphy continues to inspire the men to be independent by organizing a Monopoly game that continues for days, with play money exchanging hands.
- In Chapter 10 of Part I, McMurphy asks the Big Nurse if they could alter there work schedules in order to watch the World Series on television. When Nurse Ratched refuses, McMurphy refuses to be defeated, calling upon the others.
"Come on now, what is this crap? I thought you guys could vote on policy and that sort of thing. Isn't that the way it is, Doc?"
The doctor nods without looking up.But, out of their fear for the Big Nurse, the men will not vote to go along with McMurphy. Angry at their cowardliness, he insults them and says he will hurl the control panel through the windows. Bets are placed and McMurphy strains, but cannot pull it up. However, he tells the men that, at least, he tried.
- Angry when the Big Nurse rations cigarettes, McMurphy smashes the glass to the nurses' station.
- In Part 3, McMurphy continues his attack upon the authority of Nurse Ratched by organizing a fishing expedition. His forging of the Chief's name on the trip list restores confidence to the novel's narrator. And, even though they rent the boat without the captain's position, Dr. Spivey talks the legal authorities out of arresting anyone, so the group returns triumphantly, humbling the catcallers who earlier disparaged them.
- When Nurse Ratched wants the men disinfected after the fishing trip, McMurphy refuses and Bromden joins in the protest, inspired by McMurphy.
- McMurphy's great defeat against the Big Nurse after Billy's suicide, one that embarrasses her tremendously, is his ripping of her uniform and exposing her large bosom about which she is self-conscious.
- While McMurphy has been taken away, the Big Nurse says he will return; Bromden narrates, "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...and singing.... "
- Inspired by the pluck of McMurphy, Bromden repays McMurphy's saving of his manhood by saving McMurphy from a vegetative existence as he suffocates his friend. Then, he pulls up the control panel and escapes from the asylum.
Because McMurphy refuses to have his manhood and independence taken from him, Bromden and the other patients slowly resurrect their own independence. Thus, McMurphy has become their savior.