Alienation and Loss of Identity

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  • Topic: Bret Easton Ellis, American Psycho, Patrick Bateman
  • Pages : 8 (2882 words )
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  • Published : April 30, 2013
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Alienation and Loss of Identity in ‘American Psycho’ by Bret Easton Ellis and ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ by J.D. Salinger

‘A modern world based on pure individual self-interest, ironically leaves the individual in a chronically weak condition. Without a binding collective culture, without solidarity, the individual – isolated, adrift on tides of momentary desires – is open to manipulation and the most subtle forms of freedom.’1 Slater’s words fully encapsulate the grasping feelings of alienation that continuously mark the lives of both the protagonists in BRET E. ELLIS’ American Psycho and J.D. SALLINGER’S The Catcher in The Rye. He deems that in a money-driven society where everyone stands only for himself, the individual remains isolated in his attempts to find a sense of belonging. Born in the postmodern society of the 20th century, after the second World War was finished, these modern generations so accurately represented by Patrick Bateman and Holden Caulfield no longer have to fight in wars, they do not have to stand up and fight for causes and beliefs – shortly, they do not have to struggle as most generations before them had to. Instead, they live in a world in which everything seems to be at the ready for them. However, they experience a spiritual crisis. In such a world, marked by America’s launch into economical prosperity and the emerging of consumer society, the individual finds himself deprived of any real freedom when following the many rules that society imposes and thus lost with no identity, he can only desperately attempt to break free and be different. While in The Catcher in the Rye the hero has this constant (apparently innocent) inner struggle in the search of a place to fit in, in American Psycho, this idea is truly carried to an extreme: Patrick Bateman lives in a world which presents itself as the embodiment of the American Dream. On a closer look, though, we can see just how much of it is fake, and the ‘dream’ rapidly switches into a sheer nightmare. Right from the very beginning of the novel, we find ourselves warned: ‘Abandon all hope ye who enter here’. The message is clear and resonates deeply: we enter hell. Dreadful things are bound to happen to us and we continue at our own risk. Set in 1980’s Manhattan, coinciding with the rebirth of Wall Street and the city reclaiming its role at the centre of the worldwide financial industry, this black comedy gives us an entirely realistic insight into the lives of the rich and powerful. A good example of that is the book’s narrator, 26 year old Partick Bateman, young and influential American banker and the typical eighties yuppie. Flawless in every way on the outside, Bateman appears to be perfect or at least as perfect as the people surrounding him can see him: he is on various occasions described by his girlfriend, Evelyn as ‘The boy next door’, a symbol of kindness and innocence. We soon learn that he is in fact the opposite: a perfect specimen of an amoral society, embodying all the worst qualities like greed, excess and vanity. Creating a direct contrast, in The Catcher in the Rye Salinger manages to successfully tackle a different, somewhat controversial stage of youth - adolescence. Taking place in 1950s closely following the Second World War in a prosper Manhattan, this timeless novel traces the protagonist’s quest to initiation, finding an identity and a respective place in society while still trying to preserve his childish innocence at the age of 16. Loss of identity is possibly one of the most important themes in the two novels. The protagonists succeed in turn to become the person that the society they live in knows and accepts but they fail miserably in preserving their own identity, thus resorting to the use of alienation. Both authors successfully illustrate that each of the antiheroes they’ve portrayed appear to be ‘suffocated’ by the American society of that time ‘In New York, boy, money really talks – I’m not kidding’ in a way...
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