American Psycho Summary

Bret Easton Ellis

American Psycho

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American Psycho Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis.

American Psycho, a novel by Bret Easton Ellis, satirizes the apathy, narcissism, and emotional void of modern consumerist culture, through the metaphor of the psychopathic killer, Patrick Bateman, whom no one will believe is a killer, despite his repeated confessions. Because Bateman is a rich, white, well-mannered, educated young man with a coveted job at a Wall Street investment bank—the embodiment of the traditional American success-story—no one wants to look past his facade to see the monster behind his socially-acceptable mask.

Told primarily in the first person by 27-year-old Bateman using a present tense stream-of-consciousness technique, and set during the Wall Street boom of the late 1980s, the plot of the novel centers around Bateman’s satisfaction of his every desire, including killing anyone who he believes stands in his way. He parties on Friday nights with his friends, clubbing and snorting cocaine, critiquing other people’s looks and clothing, trading fashion tips, and listening to pop music. He remains in a loveless engagement with another yuppie, Evelyn, throughout much of the novel, though he pursues relationships with other women, including a woman named Courtney, who is seeing another man. An underlying theme of the novel centers on the meaningless relationships between men and women, who often trade partners and commit infidelity without thought or emotion.

The people who displease Bateman tend to disappear. For example, Bateman’s best friend, Tom Price, who Bateman believes to be having an affair with Evelyn, mysteriously disappears after walking out of a club one night. Bateman then kills a co-worker, Paul Owen, to take over a coveted account and pretends Owen has gone to London. Thereafter, he uses Owen’s apartment as the location to seduce, torture, mutilate, kill, and cannibalize multiple people, including a woman, Bethany, whom he dated in college, and several prostitutes. The lack of a coherent plot mirrors both Bateman’s internal mental disintegration and his focus on describing only the appearances and costs of things. He sees people as objects and manipulates them at will.

Additionally, Ellis manipulates the structure of the plot, introducing elements of mistaken identity and misunderstood conversations, which deliberately bring into question Bateman’s reliability as a narrator. For example, upon one of the many occasions when Bateman confesses to his crimes, saying that he’s into “murders and executions,” his companion, Daisy, hears “mergers and acquisitions”—no one hears his confessions, or they deliberately choose to misunderstand him. When Bateman returns to Owen’s apartment, expecting to have to clean up the decomposed bodies of two prostitutes he murdered there, instead he finds the apartment in pristine condition and up for sale. However, these constant mistaken communications and confused events also challenge whether Bateman is actually a serial killer. Perhaps he is a delusional psychotic, who only imagines these brutal, sadistic attacks?

The plot culminates in a SWAT helicopter chase through New York, after Bateman randomly shoots several people on the streets. Bateman holes up in his office and calls his lawyer, Harold Carnes, confessing all of his crimes to Carnes’ answering machine. However, when he later meets Carnes and confronts him about his taped confession, Carnes mistakes him for a different Patrick Bateman, and insists that Bateman’s confession is all a hilarious joke. When Bateman argues with him about having murdered Paul Owen, Carnes insists that he has just had dinner with Owen in London.

The novel ends as it begins, with Bateman continuing his life as if nothing has happened, going out on the town with his friends for a night of partying, with no consequences for his crimes. The reader is left in no doubt of the inconsequential value of each human being and the vacuity of modern life, while not knowing whether Bateman is a psychopath or a delusional psychotic. In either case, Ellis’ theme indicates that mental instability, including homicidal rage, is perhaps a normal response to the empty commercialization of all human interaction and connection.