Villainy and Society in American Psycho

Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho is perhaps renown for its brutal and gruesome discourse. Patrick Bateman is the psychopathic, or schizophrenic protagonist who narrates to us his life working on Wall Street during the financial boom of the 80’s.

Bateman is a violent schizophrenic sociopath who sadistically murders friends, prostitutes and lovers in the most horrific ways possible. His acts of villainy truly disgust us, (I remember having to stop reading it because I felt rather nauseous) but he embodies something that we all recognise – he embodies the greed and ego of the modern day consumer- something we all can perhaps empathise with. He embodies the need to spend money and the need to be successful in a Capitalist Consumerist society.

Ellis constantly reminds us of Patrick’s obsession with materialism and success through using obsessive listing of his designer belongings, ‘I’m wearing a double-breasted suit, a silk shirt with woven stripes, a patterned silk tie and leather slip-ons, all by Gianni Versace,’ which occurs every time Patrick changes clothes or notices what somebody else is wearing (which, as you would imagine, is rather often). This almost incessant attention to detail not only pinpoints Patrick’s mental illness, but the materialist weakness of judging others by their possessions, ergo their financial situation.

Ellis also uses listing when Patrick is committing murder, ‘I take out the axe that I stashed in the shower, pop two five-milligram Valium, washing them down with a tumbler full of Plax, and then I move into the foyer, where I put on a cheap raincoat I picked up at Brooks Brothers…’ Linking ferocious murder and consumerism through use of the same stylistic technique parallels the ideas of brutality and greed. Is Materialist greed as vulgar as murder? Is there perhaps something rather psychotic about the need to spend money for an ego boost?

Is Patrick a villain? Even though he is incredibly affluent, the majority of people from all social classes spend money on things they don’t perhaps need in order to be appreciated by other people, for example, many young people may own an iPhone rather than a brand of phone that is cheaper and not so popular. Why? Because, in a materialist society there is a need to be seen as affluent, or more affluent than you actually are. Patrick embodies this very common personality trait, one perhaps of greed. Is he a villain, then? Or is there something villainous within us all, within this need for the material?

If you consider serial murder to be ethically wrong then yes, in a pragmatic sense Patrick is a villain.  However at the end of the novel we are introduced to the mind-boggling twist that brings ambiguity to the entire plot. We are left wondering if Patrick ever committed any of the acts at all, or if society overlooks such acts of villainy to maintain equilibrium so that we can all go about with our lovely lives and buy more stuff. Either way, Ellis’s satire of modern Capitalist consumerist society is comedic (black comedy to say the least) but powerful. It forces us to look critically at society, and inevitably, ourselves.

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