American Psycho 2

What drives Patrick Bateman to kill (or to fantasize about killing)? What does he get out of it? In the last 30-50 pages of the novel, most or all of the explicit violence ends. How do these pages help to explain the reasons for Bateman’s violent acts (or fantasies)?

12 thoughts on “American Psycho 2

  1. Virginie Caspard

    While initially, I was tempted to attribute psychopathy or some other mental illness to Bateman’s killings, I think that the killings themselves and other signs of deterioration of his mental state are symptomatic of living in a world devoid of meaning. I completely agree with Laura’s point that Patrick Bateman’s inability to perceive humanity in himself and others drives him to kill. Bateman’s day-to-day behavior is entirely driven by forces outside himself. He pursues his career as an investment banker because it is considered prestigious, he wears whatever brands his colleagues consider fashionable, and he eats at restaurants that are most exclusive. Bateman seems to see himself as a cog in a machine, and he projects this view of himself onto others. His descriptions of his coworkers’ clothes, which are indiscernible from person to person, and the constant mistaking of people for others would support the idea that nobody at Pierce & Pierce is necessary. A very cynical worldview can also extend this to almost everyone. After all, most of Bateman’s victims are not from his work. He could easily convince himself, however, that the overwhelming majority of homeless people, young children, and prostitutes are nearly identical, or at least not indispensable. One of the rare times we see Bateman feel compassion are when he thinks he sees a young homeless woman, who turns out to be a Columbia student, reading a book. I think he may have found this touching because it is so different from what he is used to, and killing such a person would indeed be eliminating something unique from the world.

  2. Andrew Michelson

    Bateman can’t kill the people who love him. He stands by Evelyn’s bed night after night with an icepick; he gets his gloved hands fully around Luis’s neck; he gets Jean alone. Though the seem like the most conventional targets and three of the only somewhat unique characters, Bateman never ends their story lines. Based on his monologue towards the end (“In fact, I want my pain to be inflicted on others,” on 362), he seems driven by a desire to hurt. If this were true, evil would not be not something that he “does” but rather something that he “is.”

    But he never kills those who love him; an overwhelming emotional surge always holds him back. Those he does kill, he videotapes. Why? “As usual,” he explains on page 292, “in an attempt to understand these girls I’m filming their deaths.” His bloodlust is driven by curiosity of his own lack of understanding at his emotions. This is further evidenced by the fact that one of the few times he expresses feelings divorced from murdering and dinner plans is when he “pretend[s] not to acknowledge [Jean’s] presence, though I’m not sure why, since I’m kind of lonely” (246). Feeling “lonely” is one of the only hints we ever get as to how Bateman feels about his relationship to the world. He wants to “fit in,” he explains to Evelyn one night, but he can’t understand how. His inability to kill those who love him is due to his own perplexity, or maybe his fear of their ability to construct him in their own minds. His bloodlust is the result of an innate curiosity about the human emotion he can’t express.

  3. Henry Cutting

    There’s clearly something very important to Patrick about having power. From his job, his drug choice to his insistence on always having a reservation when going out to eat Patrick needs to have control. Even when he admits to his murders he does it on his own terms. Nobody else catches him and he is not pressed on the issue. Rather, he chooses to call his lawyer and admit what he has done. However, after Patrick does this we see him lack power throughout the rest of the novel leading to the end of his violence. To begin with when Patrick goes to Owens apartment to clean up his mess the real estate agent has already cleaned everything and has taken an apartment Patrick enjoyed using telling him to leave and “don’t come back” (356). Following this Patrick approaches a beggar hoping to torture him by pretending to drop a dollar bill in his cup. However, Patrick thinks to himself “why bother pretending. No one’s watching, definitely not him” (370). For Patrick the only reason to torture people is for them and others to suffer. However, if nobody is suffering then Patrick has no enjoyment. He has no power to even torture the beggar. The final time we see Patrick lacking power is in the taxi cab. In this scene the taxi driver whips around “holding a gun, the make of which [Patrick] does not recognize” (377). At this point Patrick has lost all his power as he is now the one being held at gun point. Here Patrick completely loses his identity unaware, for the first time, to identify the brand of a material object. While earlier in the novel Patrick has all the power and ruthlessly kills, as he loses his power he loses his ability to kill.

  4. Campbell Goldsmith

    While the violence that surrounds and makes up Bateman is a crucial aspect to the novel, the ways in which the men engage with each other creating an aura of misogyny, hatred, and patriarchy is central to the development of Bateman’s character. At the beginning of the novel Bateman stick out of the crowd, he defends crude jokes made towards his females’ counterparts, calls out his friends for racist and anti-semitic jokes, and even goes as far to attempt chivalry. However, as the novel progresses Bateman falls into the trap of so called “masculinity” allowing his instincts and primal urges to take over. Bateman eventually lives and thrives off sex, drugs, alcohol, and wealth allowing his violent acts to become one with his corrupt personality and lifestyle. Bateman’s addictions eventually overcome any pieces of a moral compass that Bateman may have had, blurring sex and violence into one. By the end of the novel, it seems as if Bateman gets sexual satisfaction from such violence and torture, maintaining a “strong, pulsing erection” in response to the fear he insights in his victims. Women become an object of possession that can be gained as easily as discarded, where “the only reason chicks exist is to get turned on, like you said. Survival of the species right?”(91-92) Once question I want to pose: is it necessary for Bateman to turn his victims into inhumane objects in order to dehumanize them? Or is such misogyny and hatred derived from the times, allowing his violent friends to feed into his frenzy?

    1. Tierra Lu

      I’ve been thinking about Bateman’s misogyny and masculinity, too, and believe those are the main reasons why he commits the horrendous murders we see in the book. Like you said, Bateman spoke up against his friends about their racist and sexist jokes in the beginnings of the novel, but as the story moves on, Bateman gradually starts to become a Wall Street yuppie in order to survive in the society he lives in. Although he has essentially everything to be happy, there’s complete emptiness that exists inside him. He’s a successful man in New York, yet he’s not someone significant to the world. In order to combat that emptiness, he murders women and children. In a way, the masculinity and misogyny that Bateman showcases in the book is the result of the capitalist rhetoric that took over the United States during the time. Being a successful man in the 1980s comes at a cost, as we see with Bateman.

  5. Melanie Rivera

    It is evident that Patrick thinks that nothing around him holds value — and that includes human life. His warped perception of the world, narcissism, and inability to empathize coupled with his insatiability as a result of having everything he could possibly want are the essential ingredients for a sociopathic serial killer, or so one would think. Overall, I believe that Patrick’s fantasies are a result of his dissatisfaction with the shallowness, vapidness, and overall worthlessness of his own life. Much like we discussed with the first half of the novel, there’s this duplicability within his social group — Patrick isn’t a person, he is a suit in an office; similarly the women of the novel are all sex objects and victims draped in designer clothing and homeless people are treated as an infestation. There are no characters in Bateman’s world that are unique or distinguishable — including Bateman. He says this himself:

    “…there is an idea of 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 you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable: I simply am not there[…]myself is fabricated, an aberration. I am a noncontingent human being.” (376-7)

    Bateman then goes on to mention that he is in pain and wants the world to feel the way he does — which results in him having a desire to inflict physical pain onto others. None of these people are people; none of these people hold any real substance; they are microscopic in the eyes of the world and their contribution to the world means nothing — at least in Bateman’s perspective. His psychotic break seems to have been motivated by some unrecognized form of depression combined with his drug abuse. I also believe his struggle beautifully encapsulates the title of the book. His lack of a genuine identity and his unshakeable feeling of being lost are, I feel, distinctly “US American.” Equally as disturbing is that this identity crisis along with the empty interactions, lack of human connections, lack of empathy, loose morals are all things that I’ve seen replicated on Middlebury’s campus (calling, again, to this idea of prisons, asylums, and places of higher education serving the same function). Although it may sound incredibly cliché, money cannot buy you happiness; what it is to be successful, at least by US American, or western, standards guarantees wealth, power, social mobility etc. but it does not guarantee mental stability, joy, or feeling whole within oneself. “Success” truly can turn somebody into an absolute “psycho”.

    1. Claire Messersmith

      I agree with all of the points which have been made so far, and especially endorse and wanted to add onto the notion of Bateman needing away to cope with/deal with this artificial world (which Aaron specifically mentioned) which I believe has driven him mad, and then thus has driven him to fantasize/kill (which I still do not know which side I am on, and am excited to hear everyone’s thoughts tomorrow). I think that this also relates to Henry’s point made in class last week– about whether he actually knows anything about these brands, etc. or if he is just making this up, as a way to occupy himself and deal with this world in which he cannot stand/drives him crazy. We can see that this world begins to drive him more and more to be this way, as he begins to describe food, for example, that is so absurd that it doesn’t even sound appealing (“this weird kind of gazpacho with raw chicken in it, dry beer” (364). He also begins to explicitly say things like “my life is a living hell (141).” It cannot get more straightforward than that. Furthermore, then he says that all he wants to do is murder. Again, cannot get anymore straightforward than that.

      In the case of Bateman, due to the world but also the ways in which he may be predisposed for his troubles to manifest in these ways– we see him dress as a murderer for Halloween, and thus also become more and more graphic as well as completely embodying and playing into this graphic, horrific, serial murderer, as if he is being egged on by the world around him.

      As Anastasia is saying, although I do believe what I just said above, I also had feelings throughout the book that he seemed almost helpless (or hopeless), in the case of the inability to gain deeper knowledge of himself (mentioned on page 377), as this is only a further perpetuation and manifestation of the elitist world which he cannot escape.

      1. Gemma Laurence

        Melanie, you present a compelling argument that Patrick’s fantasies are a result of his dissatisfaction with the shallow and vapid nature of his life. He most certainly is the abstract embodiment of the “American Psycho” in all its empty capitalist glory. Yet he is also the embodiment of the deep loneliness at the heart of American society. Situated in a culture that so deeply values the individual, Patrick experiences not only intense existential angst but also intense loneliness. Despite being constantly surrounded by other people, Patrick sees no value in his superficial relationships with these people (a point made very clear by the direct correlation between sex and violence in the novel). His lack of empathy or morals could be seen as common traits of a psychopath, but, in a more figurative sense, they could be read as symptoms of a tragically individualistic society that values personal success over relationships. His violent response to any form of intimacy could be read as his defense mechanism against the coldhearted, isolated society in which he lives.

        Hidden deep within lengthy descriptions of his erotic encounters, grotesque murders, and emblazonments of expensive clothing lie tiny snippets into Patrick’s sense of isolation and loneliness. After being humiliated at Evelyn’s Christmas party, Patrick fantasizes a pornographic scene of Evelyn having sex with Daniel’s girlfriend and so he leaves the party and heads for the nightclub, “horny and desperate, lusting for contact” (198). Although this line directly refers to his sexual appetites, we can look deeper into what these appetites might really be referring to. Patrick is constantly thinking about sex, but whenever he has sex, he becomes cold, detached, and often sadistic. His inability to be vulnerable hurts the people he has sex with, but it also hurts himself; he tends to leave his sexual encounters feeling dissatisfied and empty and craving more sex and violence. It is a toxic cycle.

        If we read ‘American Psycho’ as more of a metaphorical “disease of modern life” novel, we can view Patrick Bateman as the embodiment of what happens when society starts valuing individual success over human relationships. Displacing his desire for intimacy into acts of violence, Patrick Bateman is the pathological response to the disease of American capitalist individualism.

  6. Anastasia McLain

    Patrick Bateman has conflicting desires about himself. He wants to both fit in and be part of the crowd around him, but he also wants to have his own unique identity. Although he wants to be a part of the greater community, he is also a misanthrope. He actively avoids romantic commitment and has an insatiable desire to kill. As the novel progresses, and especially towards the end, we see his character completely depersonalised and dehumanised. I agree with Laura that his killings are driven by this dehumanisation. Towards the end of the novel, I found this statement interesting; “My pain is constant and sharp and I do not hope for a better world for anyone. In fact I want my pain to be inflicted on others.
    I want no one to escape. But even after admitting this—and I have, countless times, in
    just about every act I’ve committed—and coming face-to-face with these truths, there is
    no catharsis. I gain no deeper knowledge about myself, no new understanding can be
    extracted from my telling” (377). While Ellis gives us a few moments to latch onto Patrick as an anti-hero sort persona, this is the moment where his entire empathetic persona devolves. We see here that he is a product of the world around him, and that the feelings of dehumanisation he suffers from himself is something he actively seeks out to inflict on others and is the reason for which he kills. Throughout the novel, Bateman has built an entire rationale for killing, but in the end we find out that not even that holds up. As he himself states, he finds no catharsis.

  7. Aaron Schwartz

    Bateman’s killings seem to be driven by an existential quest to find meaning in his artificial world. While he searches for meaning through murder, his descriptions of his murders grow colder throughout the novel. It is like murder is drug that he develops a tolerance to. When Bateman murders the child, his initial pleasure is thwarted by his realization that the murder was useless because the child “has no real history, no worthwhile past, nothing is really lost” (299). He confirms here that the murders give him a rush from knowing he is destroying is another’s life. The murders also seem to be a way for him to get attention. Though no one seems to really acknowledge his sudden outbursts where he declares he violently defiled a body, he constantly does it throughout the book. He wants people to know he’s murdering. However, his diminishing desire for violence by the end of the novel may point to self awareness. In the chapter “Taxi Driver,” Bateman seems to detest the idea of an extravagant breakfast. Though he points out that he’s severely depressed at the beginning of the chapter, his sudden distaste for luxury may be related to his decrease in violence. As the book’s a Satirical piece about materialism during the Raegan era in New York, Bateman may see no need for killing once he’s grown to realize the reality of his situation. However, the book ends on a sour note that exerts that this realization is far too late, “THIS IS NOT AN EXIT” (399). Ellis asserts that Bateman will be stuck in this living hell for eternity.

  8. Isabel Lindsay

    I agree with Laura – further textual evidence of Bateman’s loss of humanity is the fact
    that some of his colleagues, namely Tim Price, refer to Bateman as “An animal. A total animal” (384). Bateman’s dehumanization is evident to not only the readers, who have insight into his thinking, but also his acquaintances.

    Bateman, however, attributes his madman-like ways to his private battles with dementia (352). In reality, his depressive tendencies and his recognition of his increasingly depressive attitude appear to bring about the end of his violent streak. Moreover, the turning point in Bateman’s mentality is stark. After shooting the Iranian cab driver, the narration changes; the subject of the sentences evolves from “I” to “Patrick,” hinting that Bateman is experiencing an out-of-body experience and has lost control of himself (349).

    Bateman’s mother is the first to comment on the change in his attitude; “[y]ou look unhappy,” she remarks (365). “Well, you do too,” replies Bateman, thereby calling attention to the prevalence of unhappiness in the “hedonistic world” (377) of 1980s America. The novel is decorated with interactions that suggest factors driving modern unhappiness, such as the pressure to be perfect – Bateman, for example, states that “[y]ou can always be thinner” when conversing with Jean (372). At one point, Bateman describes a picture of his father, who is surrounded by indicators of upper-class wealth: Brooks Brothers’ clothing, topiary animals, a Connecticut estate. Despite living in the lap of luxury, “there’s something the matter with his eyes” (366). There’s something the matter with Bateman, too; he finds it tough to smile these days (373).

  9. Laura Dillon

    An intense feeling of dehumanization drives Bateman to kill. His obsession with surfaces is evidence of his dehumanization throughout the novel, but it becomes much more explicit towards the end. At one point, he asks, “If I were an actual automation what difference would there really be?” (p. 343). Later in the novel, his narrative voice disassociates from his character and actions while he’s on a killing spree. It’s not that killing makes Bateman feel more connected to (his) humanity, but rather the killing is a manifestation of this. If Bateman himself is only a surface, an automation, with no depth or emotion, then everyone else must be as well. He kills and tortures physical objects – bodies, not people. A violent release is all he gets out of killing, which he discusses more in the last few pages of the book. As he’s talking to Jean, he continues their discussion in his own head after she asks, “I can’t pretend these feelings don’t exist, can I?” As if this question were about himself and his own violent impulses, he then says to himself, “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 you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable: I simply am not there,” (377). A few pages before, he writes that civilization is only surface, colossal, and jagged (375). In the same paragraph, he says, “My pain is constant and sharp and I do not hope for a better world for anyone. In fact I want my pain to be inflicted on others,” (377). In short, Bateman suffers from the lack of depth in the world surrounding him, which results in feelings of dehumanization that he wishes to inflict on everyone/everything around him.

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