Explore the Significance of Crime Elements in this extract of American Psycho. Remember to include relevant detailed analysis of the ways that Easton Ellis has shaped meanings.
American Psycho is written in first person which tells us that the narrator, Patrick Bateman - a psycho serial killer, is unreliable. He is also a Wall Street trader which is a likely contributing factor as to why he is a ‘psycho’ – the stress of working as a stockbroker in the 1990’s was a very stressful job and was dangerous for the brokers’ mental stability.
In this extract, the main crime elements which are prevalent are the build up of suspense/tension, murder and violence, and deceit. There is a constant motif of the narrator being compared to a form of nature which is untameable, whether this is in the form of a volcano or predatory animal. Thus, the elements of crime are quite significant in this extract of American Psycho
The build up of suspense is an important element of crime fiction and we feel the suspense from the very first line of this extract. Bateman says “During the nights I have been sleeping in twenty-minute intervals.” The narrator’s lack of sleep shows that he’s not in a right state of mind and makes us question his reliability. It almost sounds mechanical, in that he’s no longer human, and he’s a machine that switches on and off at exactly twenty minute ‘intervals’, like an alarm clock being constantly put on snooze . It is foreshadowing of his inhumane actions and lack of emotion and remorse – he doesn’t have any, just as a machine. This is building suspense because in just the first line, we can sense that something’s not right. Our questioning of the narrator’s reliability is immediately confirmed in the next sentence where Bateman says “I feel aimless...my homicidal compulsion, which surfaces [and] disappears..., lies barely dormant...” From this quote it is clear that Bateman is a killer who is very unstable mentally. This builds even more tension and fear in the reader because we know he is going to kill. From the adjective ‘dormant’ it is almost as if he’s a volcano waiting to explode and cause lots of harm and kill people. We question his reliability because when a character is clearly so destroyed in his mind, it is hard to trust them even if they do sound honest by speaking about the way they feel. It is also symbolic of the fact that Ellis is trying to portray this character as untameable as nature and this builds up tension and suspense as we are now anticipating when Bateman ‘explodes’ and kills the child. Ellis uses this slow build up of tension has shaped the pathway to the murder. Thus, crime elements are significant in this extract because the element of suspense is apparent here, foreshadowing and building up to the murder.
Murder and violence is also a very important element of crime fiction and it is the climax of this extract. The murder is swift as Bateman narrates “...I stab him, quickly, in the neck.” The deed itself is done very fast, described in just over two lines, showing that he murders the child abruptly and suddenly and this is illustrated by the quote “...in a massive wave of fury...” The murder was not done methodically or in a calculated manner. Rather it was like a spasm in his body and mind which let itself out like a wild animal, adding to the fact that he’s mentally unhinged. This is ironic as this extract is set in a zoo where it seems “...devoid of life.” The setting of the zoo is ironic because it represents the animalistic behaviours which Bateman displays, implying that it is here where he truly belongs – caged like one would be in prison. This could be a possible hint at corporal punishment which is also a crime fiction element. This is significant not only because it foreshadows the murder of the child, but also because the animals Bateman mentions are predators – a polar bear which is “stained and drugged” and the crocodile which “floats” like a dead body in the pond. This is significant because the only predatory animal which is out functioning physically and hunting is a human: Patrick Bateman. The crocodile is likened to him more as they are reptiles (cold-blooded) just how he is a cold blooded killer. This symbolizes that the narrator is the real animal which is prowling and hunting its prey and then suddenly jumping out for the kill which essentially dehumanises the character once again, this time as a ferocious animal rather than an emotionless machine. Ellis uses murder and violence and the subtle comparison of Bateman to a predatory animal to shape the murder of the little boy. This makes the element of crime significant in this extract because murder out-standing in this extract. It is also the title of the chapter “Killing Child at Zoo” and this sounds as if it’s on his regular ‘to-do’ list. Hence, this act of violence and murder makes the elements of crime significant in this extract.
Another key element in crime fiction is the theme of deception which is demonstrated in two parts of this extract. The first person Bateman deceives in this passage is the victim, a five year old child throwing his candy wrapper in the bin. He does this by asking the child “Would you like...a cookie?” Naturally the child said yes and he used this lie as bait to then gruesomely murder him. The ellipsis shows a hesitation slight hesitation which brings us to the climax of our suspense which is then concluded by the stabbing. This form of deception was used to lure his victim in for the kill. The second time he’s deceptive is to make sure he isn’t caught for the murder. This is when he says “I’m a doctor, move back, I’m a doctor.” This blatant lie makes the reader feel disgust for this pitiless and remorseless murderer as its bad enough to murder a child but to lie to the mothers face and pretend to be of help makes this crime even more horrific and incomprehensive, and it is brutally finished with the narrator boasting at the end “I walked away...uncaught.” This also ties in with the fact that the narrator is unstable, and he could also be giving an inaccurate narration to us the readers. It creates a sense of alienation with the reader as they lose trust. This makes the element of crime significant in this extract as it includes lies and deceit.
Thus, to conclude, crime elements are significant in this extract of American Psycho, through the build up of suspense, the murder of an innocent and the lies to not get caught which are all prominent elements of crime fiction. Ellis portrays the narrator Bateman as savage in his choice of murdering a helpless victim and unconcerned with being caught in the act. Even after killing the child, he not only sticks around the scene but dives in to act as if he’s coming to the rescue – a very bold act for a man who’s just slaughtered a young boy in broad daylight. Bateman has gotten both bold and reckless in his murders, and even so, is unfazed by his actions, grabbing an ice cream afterwards. Bateman’s introduction to this chapter casts a shadow of unreliability onto his description of these events and is just presented as a wild animal which hunts and whose “homicidal compulsion[s]” explodes in a “wave of fury”. This, in essence, demonstrates significant elements of crime in American Psycho.