As one of the most illustrious characters in post-modern literature, Patrick Bateman’s obsession with wealth and wanting to “fit in” is indicative of the meaninglessness of contemporary life and lack of distinguishment when it comes to both people and possessions. Set in 1980s New York, a time period that was one of the pinnacles of excess and disparate wealth, Easton Ellis paints the portrait of a man who can only find depth in taking away life. His appetite for materialism can be tempered solely by his guileless pursuit of mass murder.
The Miserable Ones
The fact that Bateman is able to freely pursue his homicidal tendencies without intervention is the book’s primary testament to the emotional immunity and callousness of human nature. The opening of the novel immediately establishes the continued allusion to Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, appropriately meaning “the miserable ones,” which is exactly what Bateman and everyone in his inner circle are.
Bateman’s initial cohort, Timothy Price (who also appears in the chapter, “In The Islands,” in Easton Ellis’ The Informers), sets the tone for blending elements together as they drive to Evelyn’s, Bateman’s girlfriend (whom Price is having an affair with), house for a dinner party with two students from Camden (the primary setting in The Rules of Attraction). In the cab, the first instance of everything being the same to Bateman and his friends is when “Be My Baby” plays on the radio. Though the song is by The Ronettes, Bateman mentions that it’s by The Crystals. This happens repeatedly throughout the book as Bateman lists “Dancing in the Street” as a song by The Shirelles when it’s actually Martha and the Vandellas, and “Then He Kissed Me” as a song by The Ronettes when it’s actually The Crystals.
Ultimately, Price disappears into a mysterious abyss at Tunnel and doesn’t reappear until the final chapters of American Psycho, with no one really noticing or caring where he has been until he randomly shows up again. It is yet another of Easton Ellis’ overt references to everyone being replaceable.
“A Feeling That Others Are Creating My Fate…”
Although killing makes Bateman feel in control of his life, he has the perpetual feeling of being watched, like some unseen presence is manufacturing every event. In many ways, it is akin to another of Easton Ellis’ characters, Victor, in Glamorama. The difference is, no one is watching Bateman, and, in many ways, that is his tragedy. His actions are permitted to go unchecked and unnoticed by anyone. Hyperaware of the fact that his “depersonalization [is] so intense, had gone so deep, that the normal ability to feel compassion had been eradicated” (282), Bateman can only fumble uncomfortably through the motions of Wall Street life.
Apart from Evelyn, his main source of intimacy, if one can call it that, is with Courtney Lawrence, the girlfriend of Luis Carruthers, a latent homosexual that Bateman works with at Pierce & Pierce, who also has feelings for Bateman. His resistance toward Carruthers’ advances is somewhat ironic considering that he is the only one capable of discerning Bateman from anyone else among the Pierce & Pierce crowd. Though, perhaps, on some subconscious level, this is why Bateman can never bring himself to kill Carruthers.
Bateman’s homicidal tendencies naturally relate to an absence of emotion, however, it is also the things he finds himself upset over that infer a skewed perception of reality. While on one of his many shopping excursions, Bateman notes, “Some kind of existential chasm opens before me while I’m browsing Bloomingdale’s and causes me to first locate a phone and check my messages, then, near tears, after taking three Halcion (since my body has mutated and adapted to the drug it no longer causes sleep–it just seems to ward off total madness), I head toward the Clinique counter where with my platinum American Express card I buy six tubes of shaving cream while flirting nervously with the girls who work there and I decide this emptiness has, at least in part, some connection with the way I treated Evelyn at Barcadia the other night, though there is always the possibility it could just as easily have to do with the tracking device on my VCR” (179-180).
His inability to feel anything concrete only further propels his desire for murder, not to mention perpetuate his blasé attitude about the luxury that surrounds him. Even in his observations of decadence, Bateman notes the distinct sameness in everything. While sitting with a large group of people at one of the infinite posh restaurants he attends on a regular basis, Bateman observes, “Somewhere along the line the waiter removes the half-eaten appetizers, brings Coronas, fresh free-range chicken with raspberry vinegar and guacamole, calf’s liver with shad roe and leeks, and though I’m not sure who ordered what, it doesn’t really matter since both plates look exactly the same” (141).
Real or Imagined
The conclusion of American Psycho leads one to wonder if anything Bateman experienced was ever real. With hazy attempts at wanting to live a normal life, particularly after his secretary, Jean, confesses that she is in love with him, Bateman cannot keep balancing his thirst for murder with his “mask of sanity,” two elements that are in constant opposition to one another as he grapples with existing in a world of privilege and elitism that signifies nothing.
Bateman’s suppressed rage over how easy it is to disappear and for one’s actions to be completely ignored prompts him to question, “Does anyone really see anyone? Does anyone really see anyone else?” It is, in large part, the source of his confusion in deciphering fantasy from reality, as the two concepts blur evermore together in the wake of his displacement.
The most pervasive and embittering theme of the novel manifests in Bateman’s pronouncement, “Reflection is useless, the world is senseless. Evil is its only permanence. God is not alive. Love cannot be trusted. Surface, surface, surface was all that anyone found meaning in…” (375). With such a philosophy–and an undeniably valid one at this juncture in twentieth century history–it is easy to see the veracity in the notion that everyone is everyone.