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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey - Barron's Booknotes
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Perhaps the saddest of all Nurse Ratched's victim in One Flew
Over the Cuckoo's Nest is Billy Bibbit, for he comes so close
to not being her victim at all. Sensitive, intelligent, he begins
the novel seeming to everyone a mere boy, though in fact he's
more than 30 years old.

The most obvious symptom of the illness that has placed Billy
in the hospital is his stutter, which, like the Chief's fog and
Harding's fluttering hands, grows worse when he is under
stress. The stutter forced him out of college and lost him the
girl he wanted to marry; interestingly, Billy shares this speech
defect, along with an innocence of spirit and a final doom, with
another famous Billy of American literature, the title character
of Melville's Billy Budd-the second obvious reference to
Melville in the novel. (The first of course is McMurphy's
whale-decorated shorts.)

The stutter, however, is a symptom of a more serious disease:
Billy's inability to grow from a boy into a man. Manhood is
defined in this book largely in sexual terms, and the fact that
Billy has not lost his virginity though he is past 30 shows that
he hasn't taken command of his life in other ways as well. As
he admits, he lacks guts. The reason? He has been dominated
by a mother who will not let him grow up (perhaps, it is hinted,
because his growing up would be a sign of her own growing
old). Definitely a member of Harding's matriarchy, Mrs. Bibbit
has pushed Billy into the hospital; her good friend Nurse
Ratched does her best to keep him there.

Just as Billy's plight is defined sexually, so is his recovery. At
first he is embarrassed by McMurphy's lewd jokes; soon he is
flirting with the nurses and making jokes himself. When
McMurphy's prostitute friend, Candy Starr, visits the ward,
Billy alone knows how to make her feel at ease with the sort of
attention she's used to: a wolf whistle. And on the fishing trip
it's obvious Billy is more interested in Candy than he is in

The attempt to achieve a final cure for Billy brings us to the
climax of the novel, as McMurphy arranges for him to lose his
virginity to Candy. This arrangement ends disastrously. After
enjoying a successful night together, Billy and the prostitute
are discovered. For a few minutes, McMurphy's cure seems to
have worked. Billy grins fearlessly at Nurse Ratched and
wishes her a good morning without stuttering. But in seconds
her anger reduces him to a weak "gutless" child again, tongue-
tied, begging for her mercy, blaming the situation on everyone
but himself. He can't stand this retreat back to the boy he was
before; he commits suicide, as he had twice before threatened
to do. His death sends McMurphy into his final, fatal battle
with the Nurse.

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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey - Barron's Booknotes

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