Following the story of a late 1980s Wall Street psychopath, ‘American Psycho‘ is a novel that portrays a world drenched in vanity and blatant consumerism. It shows the double-faced nature of protagonist Patrick Bateman, a serial killer struggling to fit into a world where people are judged based on life’s superficialities. As Patrick struggles to define himself outside the world’s vanities, his life takes a downturn as he finds solace in the ideas he publicly decries.
Consumerism and Materialism
The beginning of the second chapter of ‘American Psycho’ by Bret Easton Ellis follows a detailed description of Patrick Bateman’s living room and morning routine. Patrick narrates how pristine his electronics are, how much of incredibly disciplined he is, and how good his life is. However, he focuses on the objects he owns and how much value they add to his ego; this becomes a central theme for most of the story in ‘American Psycho.’
As Patrick’s life begins unfolding, a trend of intense addiction to materialism begins to take form. It gets so bad that Bateman feels like the world may end simply because his card was not the best on the block. Even among his friends, who are like him in almost every way, the intense focus on material objects shows how broken society is.
Another crucial aspect of the consumerist nature of Patrick and his group is their obsession and greed. Throughout the novel, when Bateman meets a person for the first time, the first thing he does is gauge their level of wealth by describing the nitty-gritty details of their fashion. Anytime he meets someone with a better sense of style or wealth, he instantly dislikes the person; this leads him down the dark path of committing murder.
Societal Decadence and Vanity
In ‘American Psycho,’ New York is a cesspool of internally empty ego-centric men and character-lacking women. Society is in shambles as people struggle for the next most expensive object or the next hot restaurant.
Without a focus on positive moral values, Patrick’s society was an almost failed social experiment; this led to his final breakdown, as no matter where he turned, there was just no avenue to see something positive. Though people like Jean existed in the city, they were so few and had no power to make a positive influence leading to heightened vanity, cheap sex, and drugs.
Throughout ‘American Psycho,’ Patrick Bateman struggled with himself. He had no idea who he was or the meaning of his existence, and though Bateman tried using fashion, exercise, or wealth, he always struggled to define himself. Patrick’s struggle with identity came from the intense focus on outward appearances.
He and his colleagues were so obsessed with keeping up with societal standards of the elite status that they forgot how to be humans. Patrick admitted he was an empty shell, and his desire to fill himself with anything led to his serial killer rampage and mental breakdown.
Violence and the Truth
Violence is a central theme in ‘American Psycho.’ After trying and failing to define himself, Patrick turns to a terrible vice, killing. He becomes a murderer and takes the lives of Paul Owen, Christie, Bethany, Elizabeth, a homeless man, a child, and others. His lifestyle gets drenched in horror as he tortures, rapes, and does unspeakably vile things to other human beings.
However, after all the violence, Patrick becomes an unreliable narrator as his actions get disproven. When he meets his lawyer Harold Carnes, he learns that the confession in the answering machine is nothing but fiction; this leaves both him and the reader with doubts about whether he committed any murders.
Analysis of Key Moments in American Psycho
- Patrick and his co-worker, Timothy Price, partake in a dinner night with Evelyn, Pat’s finance, Courtney, Stash, and Vanden. Patrick suspects his fiance is having an affair with Timothy and learns that Stash tested positive for HIV.
- Patrick meets his colleagues At Harry’s, and McDermott narrates how he received a handjob from an unknown woman. The group then meets Paul Owen. Later, they meet at Pastels, and while there, Patrick reveals his new card to his group. He gets angry and sad when his card does not garner any admiration.
- Patrick arrives at his office in Pierce and Pierce. He meets his secretary Jean and tells her to dress more femininely. Patrick meets Tom Cruise in the elevator of his apartment complex. On getting to his room, he calls Patricia Worell and lies about having reservations at Dorsia. Patrick takes her to another restaurant, and they leave for his house. The next day he goes to the dry cleaners with blood-stained sheets.
- Patrick invites Paul Owen for drinks. He then attends a dinner date with Courtney and a couple and sleeps with Court after the dinner.
- Bateman meets Evelyn and refuses marriage.
- An office party gets held, and Patrick attends. However, he leaves early and kills a homeless man.
- Patrick attends a concert with Evelyn, Courtney, and her boyfriend, Luis. While on a lunch break with his co-workers, he tries strangulating Luis, but the encounter turns sexual as Luis kisses his wrist.
- On a dinner date with Courtney, Patrick leaves and takes two prostitutes to his house, Christie and Sabrina. He tortures them after sleeping with them.
- Patrick kills a Japanese delivery boy before attending Evelyn’s Christmas Party. He takes Evelyn to Club Chornobyl and gets high on drugs. Later he meets a girl, Daisy, and tells her he would love to torture her.
- Bateman goes out with Paul Owen and kills him with an ax. He also brutally murders Bethany, his ex-girlfriend.
- Patrick and Jean go on a date and share a kiss. Three months later, a detective, Mr. Donald Kimball, asks Patrick if he knew about Paul Owen’s disappearance, but he denies knowing anything. He later kills Christie and Elizabeth.
- Patrick murders a five-year-old boy at the zoo and two escort girls. He then tries to eat the intestines and organs of his victims. Patrick confesses his mental degradation to his friends, but none listens. He leaves and kills a cab driver, a man at a Korean Deli, and a night watchman.
- Unsure of hope, Patrick leaves a message for his lawyer, Harold, confessing everything.
- Some months later, Patrick starts suspecting something wrong as no one talks about the people he murdered. On visiting Paul Owen’s apartment, he meets a woman, Mrs. Wolfe, who tells him to leave.
- Patrick grows increasingly mentally degraded, drinking his urine. When he runs into Harold, he asks him about the confession, and to his surprise, Harold tells him he had dinner with Paul Owne in London ten days ago.
Style, Tone, and Figurative Language
Using the first-person perspective, ‘American Psycho’ draws a reader into its world gradually as it unfolds the complexities of Patrick Bateman’s character. Metaphors and similes paint a picture of Patrick’s thought process and the things that make him tick. The figurative language structure employed in the novel shows how intense the degradation of society is as they show violence, toxic masculinity, and profanity.
The tone employed throughout the story varies. For the most part, it is subtle. However, when Patrick starts committing a terrible act, the tone flares to one of dread, anticipation, and twisted excitement.
Patrick’s business card symbolizes the materialism and obsession of society. Patrick expected praise and adoration when he showed his friends his new card. However, he got distressed when he saw Scott Montgomery’s card. His dependence on materialistic objects showed how blind consumerism can lead to negative obsession.
In ‘American Psycho,’ Patrick Bateman worshipped Donal Trump. He saw Trump as an idol and would constantly talk about his lifestyle, women, and fashion. He looked up to Trump as a goal he needed to achieve.
The Patty Winters Show
Throughout the novel, Patrick Bateman is obsessed over the Patty Winters Show. He fervently watched every episode and would note the absurd people that came on the air. His obsession with the weird people and provocative topics featured per episode showed his inner self; according to some sources, the show catalyzed his mental breakdown.
After Patrick took Paul Owen to his apartment, he brutally murdered him with an ax. Though he could have used any other method, Patrick hacked Paul to death. The ax represents the height of violence as it is only an insane person that will kill someone by dismembering them.
Can Patrick’s narrative be trusted?
Absolutely no. Patrick outed himself at the end of ‘American Psycho.’ Though he killed so many people, it may all have been in his mind, as so many other things in his life.
Did Patrick like music?
Yes. As it was the 1980s, music was massively influencing pop culture, and Patrick listened to many musicians, including Huey Lewis, Whitney Houston, and Phil Collins. He critiqued their work in different chapters.
What happens in American Psycho’s ending?
After killing many people, Patrick calls his lawyer Harold Carnes and confesses his crimes during a police chase. However, he gets shocked when he learns that Paul Owen is alive; this forces Patrick to doubt the authenticity of his actions.
Is American Psycho satire?
Yes. It is a satirical work of fiction. It follows the life of Patrick Bateman, who becomes a serial killer. Though Bateman confesses to his crimes, he gets surprised to learn that the people he thought he murdered were not dead.