In One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest the patients are described as “rabbits” chased by a wolf and as “chickens” that peck each other until they bleed to death. Nurse Ratched has driven them to fear and hopelessness. McMurphy is the only patient brave enough to fight the authorities and he is able to give the others support and strength. In the novel only Dale Harding and Billy Bibbit really stand out as individuals amongst the patients.
Billy, is a thirty-one year old man, who has been reduced to a stuttering, anxious child. The Chief states that he gives the impression of being a “kid” – “jug-eared and freckle-faced and buck-toothed.” In fact, he has wrinkles in his face and specks of grey in his hair.
Until the party Billy has remained a virgin, never daring to have a female relationship because of the women in his life. His domineering mother, like the Big Nurse, has always been in control. Billy had once proposed to a girl, but she laughed at his stutter. The all-encompassing power of his mother is reinforced regularly by Nurse Ratched, “I saw your mother on the way in, and she told me to be sure to tell you she thought of you all the time and knew you wouldn’t disappoint her.” Billy knows that Ratched manipulates the group but he has deeply accepted the Combine’s social values, the agents being his mother and Ratched who still treat him like a child. He is weak and unable to function in the outside world.
McMurphy enters Billy’s world as almost a father figure. He teaches him things from the Outside like dancing and Billy becomes his ally and supporter. The greatest impact McMurphy has on Billy is developing his masculinity. When McMurphy introduces him to Candy, Billy emits a “low, almost painful whistle.” He escapes to the Seclusion Room with her but when Nurse Ratched finds out he has slept with Candy, she threatens to tell his mother about the incident. Not wanting to be shamed, Billy slits his throat and dies. It is ironic that Billy’s first taste of masculinity should cause him so much guilt that he cuts his throat.