American Psycho

American Psycho

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Themes and Colors
Materialism and Consumption Theme Icon
Identity and Isolation Theme Icon
Monotony and Desensitization Theme Icon
Vice and Violence Theme Icon
The Truth Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in American Psycho, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
The Truth Theme Icon

Patrick Bateman is an unreliable narrator. By pairing the reader with a storyteller who may or may not be trustworthy in a landscape of drug-addled confusion and hallucination, Ellis creates a world for the reader that is constantly in flux and unstable, mimicking the experience of being inside the mind of a deranged and depraved serial killer and, ultimately, revealing the possibility for the spark of an “American psycho” to be dormant within each of us.

The relationship between the events Bateman talks us through and when those events actually take place in time is often unclear. In the chapter “Girls,” Bateman moves immediately and without transition from describing how “Christie has kept on a pair of thigh-high suede boots from Henri Bendel that I’ve made her wear” to “Elizabeth, naked, running from the bedroom, blood already on her, is moving with difficulty as she screams out something garbled.” The passage of time between chapters is also often left unclear. Sometimes when Bateman refers to “yesterday,” he will describe the events of the previous day he has relayed to us. But more often, especially when moving from one chapter to the next, it will at first seem to the reader that time has been continuous until Bateman mentions events of “yesterday” that do not align with what we have seen in the timeline we’ve been following. Not only does this make Bateman’s story difficult to follow, but it leads to questions about whether or not Bateman’s portrayal of events is honest and trustworthy. Is he leaving things out intentionally or unintentionally? What and why? Is his memory faulty?

Early in the novel, Bateman describes hypothetical violent acts to the reader, as well as violent acts he has committed in the past – people he has tortured and killed. It is unclear in these moments whether or not he is being honest. The reader does not yet know if Bateman is someone who fantasizes about violence and tells fake stories about it or someone who actually commits these acts. As Bateman’s descent into heavier drug use and more violence continues, the truth becomes even more difficult to discern. In “Chase, Manhattan,” Bateman describes a large and elaborate police chase which ends with him hiding in his new office while multiple police cars, SWAT teams, and helicopters surround the building. The chapter then ends abruptly and moves onto a detailed description of Huey Lewis and the News. We never learn more about what happened during the night of the police chase, and there do not seem to have been any consequences for Bateman. Though we later learn that he definitely left the voice messages he describes leaving during the case (because his lawyer discusses receiving them) this huge event is left unresolved and unclear. Did Bateman hallucinate the chase or did he intentionally exaggerate the events for the reader?

As the novel progresses, it becomes increasingly difficult for the reader to hold onto an understanding of truth. As time moves more erratically and Bateman’s descriptions (or lack thereof) of his life become wilder and more unreliable, the reader is left to question the entire novel, which now exists somewhere in a limbo between the truth, Bateman’s honesty and forthcoming in telling his story, and the memories and perceptions of a drug-addicted psychopath. The largest nail in the coffin of truth is Harold Carnes’ assertion that he had lunch the previous week with a very much alive Paul Owen in London. The reader is left to wonder if Owen’s murder, one of the novel’s most central events, happened or not, and, thus if the events of the entire novel can be trusted. It is entirely possible (and intentionally left open by Ellis) that Patrick Bateman never committed a single violent act, but instead either hallucinated or fabricated his tales based on his personal fantasies of violence. But whether he did or did not rape, torture, and murder multiple people, the reader realizes that it doesn’t really matter if Bateman committed the violent acts he’s described throughout the novel. In leading the reader to this realization, Ellis proposes that even a person who is not torturing and murdering strangers and friends could have the desire and capability for such violence inside of them, especially when under the influence of drugs and sex. Bateman’s existence in a capitalist society has bred in him a violence; Ellis doesn’t need him to act on this violence in order to critique the hyper-capitalist, materialistic, and shallow society he saw growing to dominate American life and culture in the late 1980s. The truth – erratic and fleeting throughout the novel – is, in many ways, unnecessary to the novel’s argument.

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The Truth Quotes in American Psycho

Below you will find the important quotes in American Psycho related to the theme of The Truth.
Lunch Quotes

“My life is a living hell,” I mention off the cuff, while casually moving leeks around on my plate, which by the way is a porcelain triangle. “And there are many more people I, uh, want to… want to, well, I guess murder.” I say emphasizing this last word, staring straight into Armstrong’s face.

Related Characters: Patrick Bateman (speaker), Armstrong
Page Number: 141
Explanation and Analysis:

In many instances throughout the novel, Bateman will describe himself admitting his crimes or threatening horrid violence in casual conversation with his friends. Yet every time, these admissions are either ignored completely or greeted with friendly laughter. Especially early on, these moments highlight the unreliability of Bateman as a narrator, an idea that will grow exponentially as events continue. It is unclear in these moments if Bateman is truly saying these things and being ignored, or if he is merely imagining himself saying these things.

If he is indeed making these admissions and being ignored completely, the reader can see, again, just how disconnected and shallow all of the relationships in Bateman’s life truly are. Everyone in his circle is concerned only with themselves; they only pay attention to others when they are attempting to compare themselves to them. In this particular instance, Armstrong is so wrapped up in his own story that he isn’t even listening to Bateman. He’s not having a conversation with him, just talking at him. This isolation from others, which is a symptom of the capitalistic, materialistic, and shallow lives led by Bateman and his peers, will only increase as situations amplify throughout the novel.

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Concert Quotes

It hits me that we have something in common, that we share a bond… the audience disappears and the music slows down… everything getting clearer, my body alive and burning, on fire, and from nowhere a flash of white and blinding light envelopes me and I hear it, can actually feel, can even make out the letters of the message hovering above Bono’s head in orange wavy letters: “I … am … the … devil … and I am … just … like … you …”

Related Characters: Patrick Bateman (speaker), Bono
Related Symbols: The Devil and Hell
Page Number: 142
Explanation and Analysis:

This is one of Bateman’s largest and most clearly spelled-out hallucinations in the novel. While at a U2 concert with a group of friends – a concert none of them are very interested in being at, though they, of course, have the most expensive front-row seats – he hallucinates a moment with lead singer Bono in which Bono reveals himself to be the devil. Not only is this another appearance of devil and hell imagery, a symbol which highlights both Bateman’s sadistic tendencies and his entrapment in his own private, isolated world of suffering, but it also reveals that Bateman perhaps feels that his violent actions and feelings are a twisted symbol of status, making him (as the devil is) the supreme ruler of the hell in which he lives.

This passage also foreshadows the many hallucinations Bateman will have later in the novel. His description of the room falling away and white light will be repeated at other moments when he retreats far into his own mind. That being said, Bateman relays this happening to the reader, not as a hallucination, but as fact. Though for now it is clear to the reader that what is happening is inside Bateman’s mind, discerning reality from imagination and truth from misconception or outright fiction will get increasingly difficult as things progress.

A Glimpse of a Thursday Afternoon Quotes

…I’m sweaty and a pounding migraine thumps dull in my head and I’m experiencing a major-league anxiety attack, searching my pockets for Valium, Xanax, a leftover Halcion, anything… I’ve forgotten who I had lunch with earlier, and even more important, where.

Related Characters: Patrick Bateman (speaker)
Page Number: 148-149
Explanation and Analysis:

Bateman’s mental health has begun to deteriorate, and (as both a cause and effect) his reliance on drugs, prescription and otherwise, has been steadily increasing. In this passage and the rest of this chapter, the reader sees just how much drugs grown to affect Bateman’s life. For Bateman, things like where he has lunch and with whom he is seen are incredibly important, as both his society’s system of value and his own self-worth are calculated based on material and social matters like money, fine dining, and “schmoozing.” Now, however, his drug habit has eclipsed this set of values, forcing Bateman to abandon the matters that were once most important to him and helped most to keep him sane. Later in this chapter, he will describe how his physical appearance suffers as a result of this moment, as well as how he makes a fool of himself in front of beggars and waitresses – things the Bateman we met in the first chapter would never think of doing.

Furthermore, as Bateman reveals that he cannot remember even the most important details of his day, the reader is given a warning about the trustworthiness of his narration. Clearly, his mental health and drug use have affected his perception and memory, and we must beware of this going forward and thus take any information he gives up with an ever-growing grain of salt.

Christmas Party Quotes

“Stop it. Come on, I want this,” I say and then in a last, desperate attempt I smile flirtatiously, kissing her lightly on the lips, and add, “Mrs. Bateman?”

Related Characters: Patrick Bateman (speaker), Evelyn Richards
Page Number: 188
Explanation and Analysis:

Bateman is a master manipulator. He knows just what to say and just what to offer in order to get what he wants, especially with women. In this case, he knows just how much Evelyn longs to get married; she’s told him herself. She views marriage as a symbol of status that will tie her to Bateman, as well as an opportunity for them to flaunt their wealth. Bateman wants desperately to get out of her party and, essentially, to go do drugs, and now he’s willing to “offer” the one thing Evelyn can’t say no to in order to get access to that.

This moment demonstrates once again the incredibly shallow nature of Evelyn and Bateman’s relationship. She wants a wedding not because of her love for Bateman, but because of her love for his wealth and status. Evelyn is completely blinded by her shallow obsessions and is willing to do something she knows she shouldn’t so (leave her own Christmas Party) in order to get closer to that.

It’s also worth noting that Bateman’s status as a manipulator could very well extend to his relationship to the reader. There is nothing to suggest that he would value the reader or feel any more closeness in that relationship than he does in any of the others in his life. If he’s this quick and easy to lie to his girlfriend, we have to wonder if he’s as happily willing to lie to us, too.

Girls (2) Quotes

During this Christie has kept on a pair of thigh-high suede boots from Henri Bendel that I’ve made her wear.
Elizabeth, naked, running from the bedroom, blood already on her, is moving with difficulty as she screams out something garbled.

Related Characters: Patrick Bateman (speaker), “Christie”, Elizabeth
Page Number: 289
Explanation and Analysis:

Bateman transitions abruptly from sex to violence here. He has been describing, in graphic detail, his sexual encounter with “Christie” and Elizabeth, including the things he’s instructing them to do to him and to each other and the clothes he’s made them wear. Then, however, he is all of a sudden attacking the women, already having drawn blood. This lack of transition is a symbol of the deterioration of Bateman’s distinction between sex and violence (and, seemingly, the passage of time itself). Where earlier in the novel he would describe sex with a woman and then the movement from sex into violence, here he blacks out and foregoes any transition. Later on, there will be no need for a transition, as sex and violence will have become, for Bateman, one and the same.

The narrative style of this moment also raises res flags around Bateman’s reliability and trustworthiness as a narrator. Has he actually blacked out, not remembering things that have happened? Or is he intentionally choosing to keep parts of the story secret from the reader? Either way, this moment is an important reminder that Bateman’s words cannot be assumed to be realistic or true.

Killing Child at Zoo Quotes

I feel empty, hardly here at all, but even the arrival of the police seems insufficient reason to move and I stand with the crowd outside the penguin habitat… until finally I’m walking down Fifth Avenue, surprised by how little blood has stained my jacket, and I stop in a bookstore and buy a book and then at a Dove Bar stand on the corner of Fifty-sixth Street, where I buy a Dove bar – a coconut one – and I imagine a hole, widening in the sun…

Related Characters: Patrick Bateman (speaker)
Page Number: 300
Explanation and Analysis:

Bateman has just committed one of his must horrific and risky crimes: the public killing of a young boy at the Central Park Zoo. What’s more, he stuck around afterwards, claiming he’s a doctor and rushing in to try to give the dying boy first aid while a giant crowd circled. Not only does he show no remorse for what he’s done, but he makes no attempt to protect his identity, cover his tracks, or escape the scene to avoid suspicion. By now, he has gone so far deep into his killing spiral that these notions are not even considerations for him.

Bateman’s empty feeling highlights his extreme desensitization to his own violence; he no longer has feelings of any kind when he’s killing, and is able to simply go about his day after the scene, doing something as mundane as buying and eating a Dove ice cream bar.

As we continue to gauge Bateman’s level of sanity and hallucination, it becomes interesting to notice in this particular instance that he says specifically that he “imagines a hole, widening in the sun.” At other moments, he may have told the reader simply that he “saw” it.

Chase, Manhattan Quotes

…and the sun, a planet on fire, gradually rises over Manhattan, another sunrise, and soon the night turns into day so fast it’s like some kind of optical illusion…

Related Characters: Patrick Bateman (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Devil and Hell
Page Number: 352
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of the novel’s climactic scene – Bateman running and driving hijacked cars through the streets of Manhattan, shooting police officers and exploding police cars, huddling in his office surrounded by SWAT team and helicopters – he describes the rising sun as a fiery hellscape, an image of his own purgatory where he must continue his sadistic actions for eternity.

As he describes this sunrise, Bateman reveals his own knowledge that his understanding of time is nearly hallucinatory. Describing the change of day as an “optical illusion,” he not only states explicitly that the timeline of events he relays to the reader is untrustworthy, but that the passage of time (and, thus, events) in the novel may entirely be a trick, not as they seem, an “optical illusion.” In this moment, Bateman essentially confirms for the reader that he is an unreliable narrator and he knows it, casting the entirety of the novel thus far and to come into a shadow of mystery, confusion, and doubt.

New Club Quotes

“Davis,” he sighs, as if patiently trying to explain something to a child, “I am not one to bad-mouth anyone. Your joke was amusing, but come on, man, you had one fatal flaw: Bateman’s such a bloody ass-kisser, such a brown-nosing goody-goody, that I couldn’t fully appreciate it…. Oh good god, man. Why else would Evelyn Richards dump him? You know, really. He could barely pick up an escort girl, let alone… what was it you said he did to her?”

Related Characters: Harold Carnes (speaker), Patrick Bateman, Evelyn Richards
Page Number: 387-388
Explanation and Analysis:

In this climactic moment, Bateman approaches his lawyer to address the voicemails he left during the chase in which he confessed to all of his crimes. To both the reader and Bateman’s shock, Carnes laughs right in Bateman’s face, mistaking him for someone else and assuming the voicemails were left as a prank. He then goes on to completely tear down Bateman’s character. Clearly, he views Bateman as a complete joke, not the respected (and deadly) alpha-male that Bateman has made himself out to be throughout the novel.

As Bateman’s characterization of himself is completely called into question, the reader must then question with newfound magnitude if everything Bateman has said has been a lie. If all the people around Bateman, like Carnes, view him as such a pitiful loser, he has spent this entire novel pretending to hold a position in society that he does not. If he has fabricated everything – for attention, to boost his self-confidence, to imagine a world where he is the alpha-male he longs to be but never will be – the entire novel is perhaps a complete ruse, an exercise in twisted fantasy.

He stares at me as if we were both underwater and shouts back, very clearly over the din of the club, “Because … I had … dinner … with Paul Owen … in London … just ten days ago.”

Related Characters: Harold Carnes (speaker), Patrick Bateman, Paul Owen
Page Number: 388
Explanation and Analysis:

As this unraveling of the truth continues, the reader and Bateman simultaneously learn that Paul Owen is (seemingly) alive and well and living in London. Bateman has not killed him. When Harold Carnes gives Bateman this news, he goes into a state of shock. From this reaction (if Bateman’s description of the moment can be trusted), it can be assumed that Bateman truly believed he killed Paul Owen. He is being faced with the reality that one of his most climactic killings was a hallucination. What, then, happened? Did he imagine the entire thing, or kill someone else in Owens’ place? Has Carnes mistaken someone else for Owen? And what about Bateman getting into Owen’s apartment, killing women there, and stashing several dead bodies in the bath tub? Did he break in and really commit these acts? If so, that would explain the real estate agent’s shock and terror at having someone come around the apartment asking about Paul Owen.

These questions will, of course, go unanswered by Bateman and Ellis alike. In numerous interviews, Ellis himself has commented on the matter of truth in his novel, saying that he intended to leave the questions unanswered and the truth up-in-the-air, and he has gone so far as to say that he himself is still unsure whether or not Bateman committed the murders in the novel or not.