One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is a novel written by Ken Kesey, documenting a hidden world of men, who’s lives have been incapsulated into a mental ward over a broad spectrum of societal differences. Among these men, is Billy Bibbit. His character defies the current-time definition of “mentally handicapped”, as he is simply a man living with built up anxiety, a verbal stutter, and a ‘push-over’ demeanor. His character crippling under the weight of his own mind sets the stage for many other characters, such as Nurse Ratched, McMurphy, and even his own mother, to use his nervous energy to their deceitful advantage.
Billy has a nervous anxiety that effects the way he functions within the ward. This nervous energy was spotted out by McMurphy, just minutes after entering the ward of men before him. McMurphy is insistent on having control of the ward, so he utilizes Billy’s overwhelming fear to locate the “bull goose loony” on the ward (p. 19). McMurphy’s strategy to find out who he’s going to replace is by pressuring Billy, by “lean[ing] down and glar[ing] so hard that Billy feels compelled to stutter out that he isn’t the buh-buh-buh-bull goose loony yet, though he’s next in luh-luh-line for the job” (p. 19). The pressure Billy feels from the way McMurphy first approaches him with a question is enough to not only scare him into speaking, but also induces his stutter, which is an indication of his anxiety level. Once Billy Bibbit informs McMurphy that Harding is the bull goose loony, both Harding and McMurphy use his anxious and quiet demeanor to show dominance over the other. Instead of speaking directly to each other, they speak through Billy. “Mr. Bibbit, you might warn this Mr. Harding that I’m so crazy I admit to voting for Eisenhower. Bibbit! You tell Mr. McMurphy I’m so crazy I voted for Eisenhower twice” (p. 21). And so on. Although in this altercation, Billy is too nervous to actually speak, his fear is used against him as the men address each other through him. Although the argument is short lasted, it proves to be a new situation for Billy, as McMuphy’s arrival to the ward brought him additional over-stimulating attention, causing him to become frantic in his actions. “Billy nods his head up and down real fast; Billy’s tickled with all the attention he’s getting” (p. 21). Billy isn’t used to being addressed in such a manor that McMurphy brings to the ward, so although the attention Billy’s receiving isn’t all negative, it is all out of his comfort zone, leaving him anxious and excited over his spot in the ward.
Billy is in the ward for multiple things, but none of which justify why he is there in the first place. He is also incarcerated by the Big Nurse due to his stutter. In todays world, a stutter is not often recognized as a mental disability, but because he was considered different back in the day because of it, he was sentenced to the life of an insane man. His stutter is also influenced by his mood. Whenever Bibbit is in a situation that sparks his anxiety, or is driven by fear, his stutter gets worse. His stutter is often affiliated with the dominance Nurse Ratched asserts over him. After a group meeting that didn’t go great for the men of the ward, Billy said “You s-saw what she c-can do to us! In the m-m-meeting today…Ah, it’s no use. I should just k-k-kill myself” (p. 68). Billy’s stutter appears here with the presence of suicidal thoughts, showing that his nervous behavior and stutter go hand in hand. Because of one bad meeting, he has not only resorted to suicidal thoughts, but he has a hard time even projecting those thoughts because they have induced his stutter. However, it is no wonder as to why Billy Bibbit’s condition is not improving from his time on the ward. There is a story that once, years ago, Santa came into the ward on Christmas. He should have been hurrying along, but the “black boys move[d] in with flashlights [and] kept him [for] six years before they discharged him, clean-shaven and skinny as a pole” (p. 76). Considering even Santa Claus can be pulled apart and shaken by living on the ward, it is obvious, that Billy, already having anxiety and a stutter, cannot benefit the way he should be from ‘help’. Toward the end of the book, McMurphy gives Billy the comfort of a woman, which seems to heal his stutter and bring confidence to his being, but it lasts up until he is caught by Nurse Ratched. Big Nurse threatens Billy, by saying she is going to tell his mom, words that made Bibbit “flinch and put his hand to his cheek like he’d been burned with acid” (p. 314). Because Nurse Ratched is still aware of the strength she has over Billy, she continues onto telling Billy his actions are going to “disturb [his mother] terribly…[and] how ill the woman can become” (p. 315). Billy then, due to Nurse Ratched’s rule, goes into a terrible fit of anxiety and stutter, begging Big Nurse “Nuh! Nuh!…You d-don’t n-n-need…Duh-duh-duh-don’t t-tell, m-m-m-miss Ratched. Duh-duh-duh—” (p. 315). Billy has become so scared, that he can no longer speak fluently. His fear, and Nurse ratched have crippled him, with lasting consequences.
Billy’s character is also a bit of a push-over when it comes to everyday things. Toward the end of the novel, we learn of a character who’s actions may just be the cause of Billy’s turtle-like demeanor; his mother. Billy, throughout the novel, has been marked as child-like, and young looking. It may solely be due to the fact that his mother has babied him his whole life. The relationship Billy and his mother share would more likely fit that of a relationship between a mother and her three-year-old toddler. She works as a receptionist at the ward, and Chief Bromdon once recalled watching Billy’s mom “take her boy by the hand and lead him outside…and Billy lay beside her and put his head in her lap [letting] her tease at his ear with a Dandelion fluff” (p. 294, 295). It may sound sweet, until you remember that he is a “th-th-thirty-one [year] old” man (p. 295). Because of this child like relationship he holds with his mother, and with the safe assumption that their relationship has likely been similar to this his entire life, he exhibits behavior of a child stuck in a full-grown man’s body.
Billy Bibbit’s overwhelming struggle with the feeling of inferiority to others is a sole reason he took his life. The feeling of anxiety and fear led Billy to end it all in one slice to the neck, while left alone in Nurse Ratched’s office. “The poor miserable, misunderstood boy [that] killed himself” left a mark to all others around him (p. 318). Billy’s life proved that we are all a result of our environments, and that regardless of anxiety, and fear, being condemned and overpowered is likely what made him, and all of the other patients in Nurse Ratched’s ward truly insane.