Billy’s quest for Advil symbolizes the way that America fails to humanize its soldiers. For much of the novel, Billy is horrendously hung over and suffers from a splitting headache. Although he asks Josh for Advil immediately upon their meeting, it takes Josh most of the novel to follow through on such a simple request, showing how Billy’s needs were a low priority. Billy asks several other people for Advil throughout the course of the novel, and no one can or will help Billy with his headache, even though Advil is a seemingly innocuous request and would bring Billy a great deal of relief. To make matters worse, Billy asks Ennis, the Cowboys' equipment manager, for some Advil from the presumably extensive stock of painkillers kept on hand for the players. Ennis says they have lots of Advil on hand but refuses to give any to Billy, citing bureaucratic guidelines and the possibility of losing his job. Ennis would be quick to come to a football player’s aid but swiftly rejects a soldier, hinting at America’s distorted priorities. Echoing the way that all of the Bravos are treated as props throughout the football game, Billy is shuttled from place to place by the Cowboys staff, who don’t seem to care about Billy’s headache.
The timeline below shows where the symbol Advil appears in Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
3. It is Mostly in Your Head But We Have Cures for That
4. The Human Response
7. We Are All Americans Here
15. Temporary Sanity
17. Money Makes Us Real
18. The Proud Good-Bye