By Julian Pearce
‘Abandon all hope, ye who enter here…’ (Alighieri).
Patrick Bateman is an enduring, illusory, humorous, self-obsessed, chilling character from one of the most controversial novels of all time, ‘American Psycho’ by Bret Easton Ellis. A misogynist, a sociopath, a psychopath— Bateman charges his way through the story, an unstoppable force of prejudice and pure hatred. He sums up himself in one perfectly articulated statement, stating: “There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real me, only an entity, something illusory, and though I can hide my cold gaze and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe youcan even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable: I am simply not there.” (Ellis, 1991, p.367-77).
Bateman is, by his own definition, an apathetic false entity whose only purpose is to inflict the pain he feels onto others. He is very much defined by the era and location he is a part of (late 1980s New York City). Bateman is a 26 year old, upper-class Harvard Business school graduate and an investment banker, who resides in an Upper West Side apartment. Bateman’s parents were both wealthy and gave him a fairly normal upbringing, his behaviour is ostensibly due to psychological issues that sit deep within his personality. His whole life, his descriptions of himself and others around him almost come across as advertisements in a brochure; Bateman describes the minutiae of every single item he or anyone else purchases, all the music he listens to and all of his daily regiments. This deep underlying obsession with objects, and self-preservation and with ‘fitting in’ are all designed to make himself feel human, when, arguably, they make him less of a human. These ‘advertisements’ include sexual encounters and murder scenes, which are described meticulously and monotonously (Moore, 2012).
Evident across the entire story is a sense of surreal homogeneity between the majority of the characters, their appearances and their personalities. Bateman and those around him are constantly mixing each other up, calling people the wrong name, saying they were with someone for dinner when in fact it was with Bateman (as Bateman describes it, anyway). This is due to the fact that most of the characters wear the same suits, go to the same hairdressers, wear the same glasses and hold the same beliefs. He possesses great insecurity in every facet of life, often being reduced to tears or panic attacks over inconsequential issues such as failing to reserve tables at the trend restaurant of the week. But it is this superficiality that is the core of Patrick Bateman—he is a parody of the United States of America, he is a parody of humans and their shallowness, albeit a macabre parody. The woman he is engaged to is equally as shallow, not to mention oblivious to the true Patrick Bateman, of whom he has revealed to her verbally, eliciting no response.
Patrick Bateman detests his field of work and those he socialises with, however when asked why he doesn’t quit his job, Bateman replies: “I…want…to…fit…in” (Ellis, 1991, p. 237). This spectrum of hatred at one end and an insatiable need to fit at the other may be the catalyst for the paradoxical absurdity that is Bateman’s life (Schaffer, 2013).
Bateman is extremely prejudiced towards all sorts of minorities, homosexual males and the homeless or poor. Hatred towards women and those in power is also observable, not only in Bateman, but his group of friends, all of whom work the same jobs and share the same bigoted and misogynistic opinions. A strong current that runs through the book is one of homoeroticism, where Bateman and his friends frequent gay bars, as well as allude to engaging in homosexual acts. Bateman seemingly does not discriminate on those he murders; however, there does seem to be discrimination towards women when it comes to who he chooses to murder in the most violent of ways. Women are raped, tortured, dismembered and in some cases cannibalised through the story. Bateman often describes this in horrifying detail, with many of these outbursts including necrophilia. Along with this, Bateman also states numerously that he finds it difficult to enjoy sexual intercourse with women, suggesting this violence is the only way he can completely satisfy himself sexually. However, an important point to remember is that these descriptions may be completely imaginary.
His sex life consists mostly of encounters with prostitutes and women from the clubs he frequents, whom often end up victims of his. He also is having an affair with a work colleague’s partner by the name of Courtney Rawlinson, who is most of the time numbed with prescription anti-depressants; possibly a mirror of everyone else’s blurred reality and unawareness. His friend, Luis also shows strong feelings towards Bateman, to which Bateman meets with much anger and frustration. At one point he contemplates murdering Luis by strangulation; Luis sees it as a sexual advance and Bateman nearly breaks down into a panic attack.
Patrick Bateman attempts to control these outbursts by taking multiple medications; however hallucinations and uncontrollable panic attacks afflict him on a number of occasions. Most importantly, the hallucinations present the possibility that these violent outbursts are imaginary as well. Everything he does, including the horrific murders are, arguably,imaginary and the ending of the book leaves it all entirely up to the reader to decide. However, the important aspect to remember is not so much whether or not Patrick Bateman commits these acts, it is the madness itself; it is the superficiality, the hatred and the rage that is important to recognise, because it is the only thing that is real. Bateman frequently confesses his deeds to his friends and fiancée, but they are often not listening or laugh it off. This also supports the point of view that the line between reality and hallucination for Bateman is extremely blurred or even non-existent.
Perhaps it would be suitable to analyse Patrick Bateman’s sexuality and personality as a whole by looking at it under the magnifying glass of a number of different psychological theories and discussions. An essay on Patrick Bateman from Carla Freccero (1997) states that the most unsettling element to the book for many readers is the lack of psychological analysis for Bateman. Ellis (1991) completely omits a psychological background for the character to explain why he is this way. It is difficult to empathise with Bateman or provide any sort of rationalisation for his behaviour seeing as there is no real description of any indicators or contributors to his behaviour, something many readers are ostensibly afraid of. Forming some sort of psychoanalytic framework to try and make sense of the behaviour may be a suitable place to start.
Psychoanalytic theory –as you may know–focuses on the id, the ego and the superego. As stated by Friedman & Schustack (2009), the theory also emphasises how these three elements interact to form someone’s personality. Much like Schaffer’s (2013) opinion, perhaps it is the id that is so out of control for Patrick Bateman, his primal urges are uncontrollable and the only time he keeps the urges in check are when he attempts to fit in with society. The superego is his set of morals placed upon by society; the misogyny, the greed and the self-obsession are all a part of a ‘yuppie’ lifestyle that soon came to an end in the 1980s (Schoene, 2008; Schaffer, 2013). As he works in a very cut-throat industry, it could be suggested that this allows him to access his id and fulfil his urges while still ‘fitting in’ to the morals and codes of the environment he’s a part of (Schoene, 2008; Schaffer, 2013). The ego is where it becomes interesting for Bateman; the ego acts as a moderator of the id and the superego. It would be perfectly reasonable to suggest, as Schaffer (2013) has done, that someone completely without an ego, as Bateman may in fact be, might have difficulty discerning reality from fantasy. These three concepts will be investigated, with particular attention paid to Bateman’s sexuality.
Patrick Bateman’s diminished ego makes it extremely difficult for him—and the readers for that matter—to make sense of what is real and what is completely artificial (Schaffer, 2013). However, in saying that, Bateman displays a very unique level of self-awareness, in that he knows he is unable to discern what is real and what is fantasy (Storey, 2005). These two worlds, one a fantasy enactment of male vernacular and the other the ‘real’ Patrick Bateman living in New York, often seep into one another; represented most clearly when, as previously mentioned, he describes himself as “an entity…an abstraction…simply not there” (Ellis, 1991, p.367-77; Storey, 2005). The fact that Bateman is aware of these things means that he at least has an ‘observing ego’, albeit diminished (Schaffer, 2013; Nietzsche, 2002). Bateman’s violence may be a good platform at which to observe his superego.
The superego is usually formed during childhood, an accumulation and calcification of morals and understanding of laws and rules within society from things we observe (Schaffer, 2013; Lonner & Malpass, 1994). Perhaps Bateman developed his moral compass from the behavioural teachings of his father, who was basically the owner of the company Bateman works for, Pierce & Pierce. Finance is a world of hyper-masculinity, one where viciousness, strength, appearance and the denouncement of any weaknesses wins over all, something Bateman is completely shaped by (Marlow & Patton, 2005). These ‘morals’ are something that form Bateman into the kind of person he is, especially sexually. The hyper-masculinity and the misogyny that comes with the people he surrounds himself with, could all very well determine the way he thinks of and treats women (Schoene, 2008; Storey, 2005; Marlow & Patton, 2005). As stated earlier, the occupation of finance is not a gentle one; companies often cannibalise one another, promoting morals suitable for Bateman to disinhibit his id with (Marlow & Patton, 2005; Schaffer, 2013).
An interesting theory from Merkur (2009) states superego morals are often standards that we set to impossible heights, often resulting in us not fulfilling those standards. This can often mean that we feel tremendous guilt and anger towards ourselves, ending in self-punishing behaviour (Merkur, 2009). It could be postulated that as a result of Bateman’s ego being so diminished, he may in fact pass this punishment—often of a masochistic variety—to victims (Schaffer, 2013; West-Leuer & Westerfield, 2009).
Throughout the story, Bateman progressively loses more and more grip with what is and isn’t real. His murders become more gruesome and violent and his ability to maintain his façade falters on a number of occasions. Bateman explores the way he murders his victims, with rape and necrophilia becoming more and more prominent. These gruesome encounters are an exploration of the most horrid corners of the id (Freedman, 1987; Connell, 1999). But, as previously mentioned, Patrick Bateman tends to have a selection process to who chooses to kill in a more gruesome fashion—usually always women—suggesting this is controlled by the superego. An example of this is when Bateman murders a homosexual male on the street; perhaps only because homosexuality violates his expectations of sexual orientation (Storey, 2005; Schaffer, 2013). His hatred of homosexuals spilled over into his selection process, thus resulting in this man’s murder. It could be suggested that Patrick Bateman is completely uncertain of his identity and sexuality and this is what fuels him to perpetrate these acts.
“This hyper-masculinity controls the narrative of the story; the sex Bateman has, the violence he commits, the clothes he wears, the job he has, are all told through a male vernacular of the time and place he’s from..”
Connell (2000) discusses gender and sexual identities in terms of Erikson’s (1956; 1980) theories. Erikson (1956), abandons the Freudian concepts of superego, ego and id, and discusses ‘ego’ as the formation of a ‘sense of self’ through a ‘long conflict-ridden process of growth’. This is achieved by balancing outside factors with unconscious motivations; so, in Patrick Bateman’s case, it could be suggested that this sense of self is completely absent because he is incapable of distinguishing these things. Within the world of Ellis’ (1991) American Psycho, it could also be suggested that most characters lack a sense of self. All characters share the same shallow morals; they are also completely oblivious Bateman’s behaviour, regardless of how many times he admits them. What controls Bateman as a character is the hyper-masculine society that he is a part of (Helyer, 2000).
This hyper-masculinity controls the narrative of the story; the sex Bateman has, the violence he commits, the clothes he wears, the job he has, are all told through a male vernacular of the time and place he’s from (Storey, 2005; Helyer, 2000; Schoene, 2008). The character himself is more of a representation of a stereotype, than it is a human. When describing the sex he has, or the pornography he watches, Bateman uses language that often gives off the sense of a male fantasy rather than reality. The description almost puts Bateman into the position of the porn-star, with an existential leap, he’s watching himself flex in front of the mirror as he has sex with these women (Kooijman & Laine, 2003). The masculinity controls every facet of his life, he describes the ‘real’ aspects of his life (music, his job, his clothes) in an extremely banal way; it’s when it comes to the more extreme end of his life—the murder and the sex—that the language comes to life in a sense (Storey, 2005).
Bateman defines the ‘other’ in society (i.e. those he discriminates against), through the comparison with a ‘normative masculinity of a postmodern era’ (Storey, 2005; Schaffer, 2013).This is where the hatred towards women and homosexuals comes to light. This hatred is in response to his fear of perceptual change, wherein the marginalised in society threatens his central position as the hegemonic, alpha male (MacInnes & MacInnes, 1998; Storey, 2005).
As previously mentioned, it is mostly women who bear the brunt of Bateman’s extreme violence. Bateman attempts to subjugate any resistance to the male-dominant homogeny by increasing the extremity of the violence in his crimes. Bateman represents a type of masculinity that wants to vanquish femininity, but it is entirely plausible to state that Bateman has stereotypically feminine behaviourisms (Storey, 2005; Helyer, 2000; Schaffer, 2013). His overly tedious grooming that involves face scrubs, moisturisers, hair products, skin products, manicures as well as the deep seated concern for all appearances are all completely opposite to the typical masculinity he tries to represent.
His relationships with women are often indifferent and he often believes that most of the women he meets with are either attracted or in love with him. When this extremely misogynist point of view is threatened, Bateman is often shaken by it and responds with hostile and angry behaviour. An example of this is when he unsuccessfully flirts with a barmaid and, as her back is turned shouts: ‘You are a fucking ugly bitch I want to stab to death and play around with your blood’ (Ellis, 1991, p. 59). When his intense grooming is ignored it often ‘[fractures] his view of the patriarchal ideology’ and this is when he lashes out on most occasions (Storey, 2005; MacInnes & MacInnes, 1998).
Bateman and his friends often refer to women in regards to their physical qualities, and this chauvinistic point of view derides any sense of interiority when it comes to seeing women for the person they are rather than just their physical qualities. Early in the book, a connection between sex and death is postulated by an associate of Bateman’s, Tim Price, when he states: ““Diseases! … There’s this theory out now that if you can catch the AIDS virus through having sex with someone who is infected then you can catch anything, whether it’s a virus per se or not—Alzheimer’s, muscular dystrophy, hemophilia, leukemia, anorexia, diabetes, cancer, multiple sclerosis, cystic fibrosis, cerebral palsy, dyslexia, for Christ sakes—you can get dyslexia from pussy—”(Ellis, 1991, p. 5).
It is with this idea that Bateman completely justifies his destruction of women. As stated by Storey (2005), Patrick believes that women’s bodies are a huge threat to men; therefore his only choice is to continue on with this destruction. He is led to believe that women pose both a metaphorical and physical threat to men, so Patrick Bateman doesn’t just murder women; he destroys them in every way possible. In order to fulfil his fantasy of objectifying women in the most inhumane ways possible, Bateman must perform the most horrendous of acts to feel satisfied he has obliterated them (Storey, 2005; Porter et al., 2003).
Patrick Bateman’s personality and sexuality is one of hyper-masculinity and violence. Everything that he does or says is driven by the same sense of destruction and hatred, especially towards women. A disinhibited superego and an out of control id control Bateman in all aspects of his life and this may lead him to perform the horrible things that he does (Schoene, 2008; Schaffer, 2013; Moore, 2012). His misplaced sense of protection of societies and his own masculinity provides him with the outcome that women and femininity must be destroyed to preserve such masculinity. Carter’s (2007) analysis of Marquis de Sade sums it up quite well, wherein she states, “the primal condition of man cannot be modified in any way; it is, eat or be eaten”.
‘This is not an exit’ (Ellis, 1991, p. 399).
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