Psycho Summary

Robert Bloch

Psycho

  • Plot overview and analysis written by an experienced literary critic.
  • Full study guide for this title currently under development.
  • To be notified when we launch a full study guide, please contact us.

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 Psycho by Robert Bloch.

Although it might now be more familiar as a 1960 film by Alfred Hitchcock, featuring Janet Leigh’s fateful shower, Psycho began as a 1959 novel by Robert Bloch. The thriller, to which Bloch also wrote two sequels, tells the tale of Norman Bates and his troubled and troubling relationship with his mother at the rundown motel he operates in a desolate area. His mother, Norma, has raised Norman alone since the death of her husband. She prevents him from having a life that does not center around her and tells him that intercourse is a sin, and that, with the exception of herself, women are whores. There are intimations in the novel that there may be incest in their relationship.

A forty-year-old Norman is in his office reading matter his mother deems obscene and for which she chastises him as the novel opens. This escalates into a fight in which his mother emasculates him, calling him weak and afraid of her. He quietly puts up with her abuse, which questions his social skills and his sexual interests. He fantasizes about killing her, thinking of how such an act would free for him. His thoughts return to the reality of the moment when someone arrives looking for a room in the motel.

The patron wanting a room is Mary Crane, who, after stealing a large sum of money from her boss in the real estate business, has just driven through several states. Her plan is to meet her long-distance fiancé, Sam Loomis, pay off some debts he has, and get married. She is lost when she gets to the Bates Motel. Norman asks her to dinner at his house and she accepts the invitation. Soon she realizes how abusive the relationship is between Norman and his mother and tries to get Norman to institutionalize her. Norman reacts violently and insists that Norma is a normal person. Mary returns to her room and makes a decision to return the stolen money so as to avoid having to live with the guilt of stealing it. Just at that moment, an elderly woman enters Mary’s room while she is showering and decapitates her.

Prior to Mary’s murder, Norman had watched her through a peephole in his office as she was undressing. He was drunk and shortly passed out. Upon waking up, he discovers Mary’s body and suspects his mother to be the culprit. His first thought is to have her put in jail, but then he cannot bear the thought of living without her, so decides to cover for her. He cleans up the scene of the murder, disposes of Mary’s body and her car in a sinkhole near the motel, and is satisfied that he has successfully taken care of the situation. Mary’s boss, however, has enlisted the services of a private detective named Aborgast to find Mary and to recover the forty thousand dollars she stole from him. Aborgast has arrived at the motel and demands a meeting with Norman and his mother. Almost immediately, the same figure of an old woman that appeared when Mary was killed in the shower appears and slices the detective’s throat. Norman puts Aborgast’s body and his car in the same sinkhole as he did Mary’s body and car.

Meanwhile, Lila, Mary’s younger sister, has become worried by the disappearance of Mary and has gone looking for her, along with Sam Loomis. They, like Aborgast, manage to trace her to the Bates Motel and Lila has a suspicion that something has happened to Mary there. She contacts the local sheriff, who assures her that her suspicion is unfounded. He tells her that Norman is not a threat and that his mother died years earlier by poisoning herself and her lover.  Lila does not believe this and she and Sam decide to investigate. Sam tries to distract Norman while Lila looks around the house but Norman manages to knock Sam out with a bottle. Lila finds a small, shriveled-up woman and assumes it is Mrs. Bates. Upon closer examination she discovers that it is a mummified corpse, that of Norma Bates. At that point Norman comes up behind her dressed in his mother’s clothing and, feigning a woman’s voice, announces that he is Norma Bates. He approaches Lila with a knife but Sam, who has regained consciousness, is able to get the knife from him and contain him until he is arrested. Norman, it turns out, developed a split personality after having murdered his mother and her lover, and became his mother in an alternate version of himself. Taken to trial, he is declared insane and institutionalized for the rest of his life.

In 1957, two years before the publication of Psycho, a man named Ed Gein was arrested in Plainfield, Wisconsin for murdering two women. Police discovered items in his home that indicated that he was trying to make some sort of suit to wear so that he would resemble his late, domineering mother. Psycho’s author, Robert Bloch, lived very near the town where this took place. Psycho was almost completed when news of Gein’s actions broke, and Bloch was unaware when he was writing his book that it would end up so closely reflecting actual events.