"The American Psycho" & "The Bell Jar" Coursework

Topics: Bret Easton Ellis, American Psycho, Yuppie Pages: 11 (3979 words) Published: January 30, 2013
“...This essential peculiarity of the psychopath is not in itself evil or vicious, but combined with perverse appetites or with an unusually hostile or aggressive temperament, the lack of these normal constraints can result in an explosive and dangerous package.”

Within “The American Psycho”, Bret Easton Ellis composes a narrative which attempts to instil in us the idea that “that society is responsible for creating the warped aspirations of people like Patrick Bateman...” the main protagonist and serial killer within the novel. Similarly, Sylvia Plath creates the character Esther Greenwood, the protagonist and narrator of “The Bell Jar”. However the novel has been described as a “thinly veiled autobiography of the life of Plath set in the 1950s Boston”.

Bret Easton Ellis’ parents separated while he was very young and his father was a heavy-drinker. Although his parent’s had divorced, his father had an immense influence over his life which would seem to be predominantly negative. During an interview, Bret Easton Ellis had referred to his father as “the sort of person who was completely obsessed with status and about wearing the right suits and owning a certain kind of car and staying at a certain kind of restaurant regardless of whether these things gave him pleasure or not”. It is clear that this actuality is what helped to shape the focal themes within The American Psycho where Patrick Bateman may be representing the sinister reality of the world and at the same time, divulging the superficial nature of society. In the late 80’s, early 90’s society wanted to take ownership of this glamorous lifestyle and retain a high status which was also often referred to as “Yuppie Culture”. “Yuppie” short for “Young Urban Professional” is a term referring to members of the upper-middle class in their 20’s or 30’s and were well known for their remarkable expenditure and obsession over social status among their peers. In the savagely clever novel, Bret Easton Ellis illustrates a Western “yuppie” society - so caught up in this alluring image that they become completely oblivious of reality, and content with living in this trancelike world - even before the novel begins by quoting the Talking Heads “And as things fell apart nobody paid much attention”. From the inlay on, it could be said that the reader is then led to “viewing the work from its outset as a commentary on a society gone wrong”.

Whilst the American Psycho is constructed with parts of the author’s life, The Bell Jar is an autobiographical novel in a somewhat fictionalised form. Sylvia Plath, who is primarily known as an exceptional poet rather than novelist, struggled with a mental illness until February 1963 when she ended her life at the age of 31 which seems to be the path of Greenwood. Many people would agree that Sylvia Plath’s mental illness was down to the men she had within her life whilst others would agree that it was down to society. Nevertheless, within The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath attempts to not ascribe Esther’s mental illness and instability to men, society or herself thus not labelling the character’s life.

Within The American Psycho, the character Bateman may be representing the superficial nature of society as the reader is able to see that on the surface he is meeting the requirements of this “yuppie culture” by his incessant need to purchase frivolous and unnecessary items for example, while at the same time, demonstrates the struggle between the loss of identity and obsession with materialism – a theme also shaped by the authors own life. When becoming a successful author, Bret Easton Ellis found tremendous wealth and described working on The American Psycho as his “way of fighting against [himself] slipping into a certain kind of lifestyle.” This could account for why the characters’ loss of identity is seemingly effortless and allows Bateman to fit in with the rest of society – by during...
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