A Comparison between the Characters of Alan from Peter Shaffer’s Play Equus and Billy Bibbit from Ken Kesey’s Novel One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest

In Shaffer’s, “Equus”, Alan is a young boy of 17 who has deep troubling issues. Alan keeps all these feelings to himself; he holds these secrets dear. In Kesey’s, “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”, Billy Bibbit is a thirty one year old voluntary psychiatric patient, and he too, fights with his demons. Both of these characters share similarities and differences relating to their mental state. They are both slightly broken and seem at a stalemate with life; both too scared for one reason or another to move on. They both seem to be isolated in one form or another from what could make them happy. Alan, like Billy, seems sympathetic to the feelings of others, though it seems his attitude alters slightly after his barn blinding incident. Alan becomes slightly more cynical as his story progresses; which might relate to his guilt about what he did.

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Alan’s story is one of passion for something he holds dear; horses. However, his passion is melted with disillusion, that of religion as a result of what he has been taught by his mother. Alan seemed to want to cling onto something powerful and meaningful, and therefore, when his Mother presented to him, religion he gripped on tightly. This became his obsession and his ultimate passion in life; which can be validated by his actions involving a religious print he hung above his bed. His father sees his obsession, and then, is angered by his wife’s meddling in their son’s mind. Alan’s father rips the religious poster from his wall, devastating the poor boy who had not much else to cling to. This causes Alan to go into a fit of sorrow that is only cured when his father gives him a new print; a mighty horse. Alan sees the creature and creates a new passion to cling to; his horse god, Equus, which can be compared to a Jesus-like being. Alan was so alone, he had no friends, he could not read, and the only stories that had filled his mind were that of his Mother’s bible tales.

Alan wanted something to hold onto, something more substantial that would give his life meaning. This yearning for something to live for is also seen within Billy. Billy clings to his Mother’s will, he seems to live only to please her; which only causes him more grief. Also like Alan, Billy is alone, in the sense that he isn’t understood or accepted by all. His stutter slows him down and creates a barrier he must overcome; he struggles to do so under his Mother’s thumb. Though both, Billy and Alan, would benefit from the release of their obsessions; they cannot move forward. Billy cannot seem to leave his Mother’s side, and therefore, he cannot advance to a peaceful state in his life. Alan is no different than Billy in his inability to stop, though it seems he wants to. Alan wants to move forward, to love a woman (perhaps Jill), but his obsession with Equus stops him like the ache of a guilty conscious.

Both boys show sympathy for those around them. Billy feels mostly for his Mother, and worries about her feelings and opinions. In comparison, Alan is a bit less sympathetic, in the end. From the start he feels for those around him (though he may not always understand); which can be seen in his reaction to catching his Father about to watch a skin flick. However, as his story progresses and his obsession takes hold he begins seeing more cynically; which is because of the guilt related to the fabricated god, Equus. In the end, after Alan is sent to Dr. Dysart the damage to his sympathy for others is done; he is sad and cynical. Through all this, Alan still seems to feel something for others; which can be seen when he feels badly after insulting Dr. Dysart on accident, and on several other occasions relating to the doctor.

Overall, Alan and Billy are both heavily damaged boys. They were alone, and therefore, turned to certain vices to soothe themselves. They are at a stalemate with life, unable to move forward. Though these experiences do not work in damaging Billy’s sympathy for others, they do work slowly on Alan, creating a slightly cynical boy who cannot seem to move forward and step into the light.

Work Cited:

  • Kesey, Ken. One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest: A Play. New York: Viking, 1962. Print.
  • Shaffer, Peter. Equus: A Play. New York: Avon, 1975. Print.
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A Comparison between the Characters of Alan from Peter Shaffer's Play Equus and Billy Bibbit from Ken Kesey's Novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. (2022, Dec 07). Retrieved February 3, 2023 , from
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