An intelligent, educated, and effeminate man, Harding is initially set up as McMurphy's foil. He exists totally within the realm of his mind whereas McMurphy represents a natural man. Harding chooses to lead his life as an individual repressing his homosexual urges while suffering the humiliation of never fully pleasing his promiscuously unfaithful wife. Nurse Ratched seems pleased to remind the group that "his wife's ample bosom at times gives him a feeling of inferiority," while Chief describes him as "a wild, jerky puppet doing a high-strung dance."
Despite his weakness, Harding is the first patient to acknowledge to McMurphy that the patients "are victims of a matriarchy." He also becomes McMurphy's most ardent supporter, defending him against Ratched's assertion that McMurphy acts only out of self-interest. In McMurphy's absence, Harding takes over leadership responsibilities by adopting McMurphy's mannerisms and behavior. After the party, Harding is among the first patients to leave the hospital.