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American Psycho

American Psycho (1991) is a novel by Bret Easton Ellis about a young Manhattanite serial killer. A film adaptation was released in 2000. more...

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The novel


American Psycho is set in the late 1980s, mainly in Manhattan. The novel describes roughly two years of the life of Patrick Bateman, the first person narrator. Bateman, 26 years old at the beginning of the story, may or may not be a serial killer and cannibal. Coming from a rich WASP background, Bateman has studied at Harvard (he is one of the class of '84) and has turned into a seemingly prototypical yuppie. He works as a Wall Street banker at the firm of Pierce & Pierce.

In the novel, Bateman describes how he kills and tortures several people:

  • Beautiful young women ("hardbodies"), never older than Bateman himself, whom he "punishes" for being what they are: either friends or former friends of his. Examples are his ex-girlfriend Bethany, prostitutes, and escort girls.
  • Business rivals (in particular a man called Paul Owen, whom he kills in his own apartment);
  • The poor, homeless and unemployed he stumbles across in the streets of Manhattan, generally people to whom he refers as the "genetic underclass" (for example an African American beggar whom, on a whim, he blinds and whom he meets again at the end of the novel);
  • People from different ethnic backgrounds (apart from the beggar mentioned above, a Chinese delivery boy, whom he mistakes for Japanese);
  • Innocent people he comes across in the street (including a boy he stabs at the zoo in Central Park, a gay man with a dog, and a saxophonist);
  • People he shoots at one point in the novel where he is being chased by the police (a taxi driver, a policeman, a night watchman, and a janitor).
  • Bateman also tortures and kills animals such as dogs and rats.
  • Also interesting is to consider who is not killed by Bateman, the three main persons here are: his secretary (Jean), his fiancée (Evelyn Williams) and a gay friend (Luis Carruthers) also working at P&P. Perhaps he is not able to kill one of them because they are all in love with him (doubts are allowed concerning his fiancée).

The sadistic pleasure Bateman takes in murder, and the homicidal rage that motivates them, is the only form of emotion Bateman is capable of. By the end of the novel, even killing can't arouse any feeling in him; he is left completely hollow.

Bateman's personality

Some people think that Bateman has an antisocial personality disorder or a borderline personality disorder, because of the crimes he commits, and his apparent indifference to the suffering and death of his victims. Others think that Bateman is simply an extreme example of Kant's dictum that the world is highly cultivated and civilized but not yet moralized 1. Kant clearly sees that there is a dichotomy between culture and civilization on the one hand and morality on the other. In American Psycho, all the Wall Street people dress perfectly, eat only the best and most expensive food and keep their bodies in shape by working out in exclusive health clubs. In the course of the novel Bateman discusses things like which brand of bottled water is the best, how to wear a cummerbund, or which tie knot is less bulky than a Windsor. Bateman knows all the answers and could pass for a very refined and also intelligent and thoughtful young man. This, his "public persona", is sharply contrasted with his alter ego: Bateman not only drinks his own urine, he also bites off and swallows one of the nipples of a girl he is having sex with; he cuts out Bethany's tongue while she is still alive; he eats a girl's brain after he has slaughtered her; and he decapitates a woman, puts his erect penis into the mouth of her severed head and walks around the room with it, laughing.


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