At first, the Chief seems almost a caricature of an old wooden cigar-store Indian, but he grows and changes more than anyone during the course of the film. In the beginning, his defense against Nurse Ratched is complete withdrawal. By pretending to be deaf, he need neither speak nor interact with anyone. Even McMurphy’s antics do not initially pierce the Chief’s protective façade. The first sign of change comes after McMurphy climbs up the Chief’s back and arms in order to escape over the fence. McMurphy’s getaway brings a smile to the Chief’s face, because he sees for the first time that the outside world may be accessible and that rebellion may be an option.

McMurphy’s energy continues to work on the Chief, who begins to reengage with life by responding to events on the ward. In an act Nurse Ratched rightly views as insubordinate, the Chief breaks the tie in favor of McMurphy in the World Series vote. He helps the inmates beat the orderlies in a game of basketball. A further breakthrough toward life and health occurs with the Chief’s first words, spoken to McMurphy to thank him not just for the comfort of a stick of gum but also for the example of his courage. Although McMurphy tells the Chief he is as big as a mountain, the Chief himself believes he is too small, too damaged, to escape. However, the Chief grows into his physical strength under McMurphy’s care, and when McMurphy returns to the ward lobotomized, the Chief decides he is now big enough to escape with McMurphy—this means he has reached sanity. At the end of the film, the Chief goes out into the world much like the biblical Peter, the follower of Jesus who went on to build the Christian church after the death of Jesus.