The novel begins with a quote from Dante’s Inferno, “Abandon all hope ye who enter here”, seen scrawled along the side of a bank in red graffiti letters. Suddenly, a bus pulls up with an advertisement for “Les Misérables” and blocks the view.
The quote from Dante is in reference to the gates of hell. By beginning the novel in this way, Ellis is telling the reader that they are in for something dark, involving sin, pain, and suffering, and he also equates the world of finance in New York City with hell. This first appearance of “Les Misérables” is Ellis telling the reader that both 1980s pop culture (of which Les Mis was a huge part) and the tensions of class (a theme of the musical) will be crucial fixtures of the novel.
Patrick Bateman, the novel’s protagonist and narrator, is taking a cab through New York City with his friend Timothy Price, a fellow Wall Street investment banker. Price is complaining about hating his job and listing off the terrible occurrences that have been reported in the day’s paper: from AIDS to Nazis, mafia violence to gridlock. Bateman stays silent and allows his friend to continue on and on for most of the ride. Staring out the window, he sees another Wall Street colleague, Luis Carruthers; he watches as Carruthers waves to Price in the passing vehicle, but is ignored.
Price’s outlook on the world is negative and angry. He shows contempt for the terrible happenings in the world, not because they cause harm to others, but because they are an irritation to him – a wealthy man who sees himself as above the crime, disease, and poverty that he associates with the less fortunate. He even looks down on Carruthers, a fellow wealthy Wall Street banker, and shows this by ignoring him. For Bateman, there is nothing new or interesting about what Price has to say. This first depiction of Patrick, stoic compared to the raving negativity of his friend, establishes him as a more cool, collected, and perhaps positive person than Price. This outward image will later be revealed as one of Bateman’s tactics for manipulation and the masking of his true self.
Price spots a homeless person on the street, begging for money, and swears. He is disgusted by the woman and by himself for growing so accustomed to seeing homeless people on the streets of New York City. He tells Bateman that he’s been counting homeless people all day, and over the course of the ride he’s reached a total of 30. As they near their destination, Price continues to complain, now discussing his plans to break up with his girlfriend. Eventually, he apologizes to Bateman for his attitude, telling him that the steroids he’s been taking have made him tense.
Bateman and his friends all have a shallow hatred of the homeless; they view people without wealth and material possessions as worthless. Nevertheless, they also seem obsessed with the homeless, always looking for them, interacting with them, and clearly getting satisfaction from degrading them. Price’s mention of his steroid usage is the novel’s first instance of a character using drugs. This particular drug is one that’s all about surface: steroids help you look strong and muscular, further displaying the men’s shallow obsessions.
The two finally arrive at the home of Evelyn Richards, Bateman’s fiancée, where they’re planning to meet Evelyn and her friend Courtney for dinner. Price apologizes for being late, blaming the “inept Haitian cabbie.” The women announce that Evelyn has ordered sushi and they will be dining at home. Bateman flirts with Courtney when he sees her, but she brushes off his advances. Meanwhile, his fiancée Evelyn is obsessively re-arranging the sushi she’s ordered on a platter. She wasn’t able to get a reservation at the restaurant she’d hoped and now is preparing their take-out like a fine work of art, complete with fresh ginger, (embarrassingly) room temperature soy sauce, and large bottles of imported beer. The whole time, she is deeply concerned that everything is “a mess.” When Bateman steals a piece of sushi and tells her that it’s “delicious,” her anxiety seems to subside.
Price barges into the apartment with more negativity, this time making a racist remark about the cab driver. Evelyn, who is not taken aback by this, is focused solely on dinner. She knows that the “boys” will be disappointed to dine in – they are used to going to the finest restaurants– and is obsessing over making their meal perfect. The meticulous way she arranges the sushi and her preoccupation with the cleanliness and perfection of the meal parallels Bateman’s highly-regimented and organized life (which is later presented in great detail). Hypocritically, Bateman also judges her for this, although he acts very similarly in many situations. Bateman’s interaction with Courtney also reveals that he is not faithful to Evelyn – even his fiancée is just another woman to enjoy.
Price returns to the kitchen and announces that there are other people who he doesn’t know sitting in Evelyn’s living room. Courtney says that their names are Stash and Vanden, and that they are friends of Evelyn’s. Price finds the two strange; they’re artist-types, dressed in all black, Vanden with a streak of bright green in her hair. They’re sitting on the couch smoking, “doped up,” and staring entranced at a heavy metal music video on the television.
Stash and Vanden are very different from Bateman and his Wall Street gang, and because of this, Price (and Bateman, too) look down on them and consider them less valuable as people. Living outside of the materialistic world of Wall Street, Stash and Vanden don’t seem too concerned with how others perceive them—or at least they’re concerned with maintaining a wholly different kind of persona than Bateman.
Under Evelyn’s guidance, everyone makes their way to the table to eat. She and Price briefly excuse themselves and return “flushed” about 20 minutes later. Evelyn insists that her guests sit boy-girl, so the guests re-arrange and sit down to the beginning of an awkward dinner. Stash skewers a piece of sushi with his chopstick and stares blankly at his plate, while Vanden sits reading a newspaper called “Deception” that bears the headline “THE DEATH OF DOWNTOWN” – Price finds this preposterous. Courtney seems amused by the whole affair.
Evelyn and Price’s trip to the kitchen makes it clear that Evelyn isn’t faithful to Bateman either, and that Bateman’s best friend cares for neither him nor his relationship. Price, who is a big partier, scoffs at the idea of downtown being “dead.” While the magazine is commenting on the “deadening” effects of Wall Street’s materialism and drug culture on the nightlife scene, Price merely assumes that others are envious to be left out of the exclusive scene he runs in.
Stash finally speaks to correct Vanden’s pronunciation of a new night club (she’s been calling it “Sri Lanka”) and discusses the war crimes currently being committed in that country, which leads Bateman into a long speech about the numerous foreign and domestic policy issues of the United States. He discusses ending apartheid, slowing the nuclear arms race, and making sure that America is a respected world power where all young people have access to affordable college education. He criticizes the current economic situation in the United States, demanding that there must be a way to decrease inflation, interest rates, and the national deficit while still promoting economic and business growth. He continues on even more, discussing welfare, abortion, illegal immigration, and so forth. When he finally finishes, Evelyn, unsure of what to do, offers everyone sorbet for dessert.
The reader sees a new side of Bateman during his long rant. Up until now, he’s been cool and collected, while Price has been the one to get worked up over things. When Bateman speaks up, we learn not only how he views the world, but the way in which his brain thinks about things: he is very intelligent, well-informed, and makes specific and organized opinions and plans. Especially compared to Price’s earlier ranting in the cab, Bateman’s speaking is clear, intelligent, and purposeful. That being said, his speech seems to be more a display of dominance than care. He isn’t worried about the betterment of the world (as displayed by his actions thus far and later), but is committed to others viewing him as intelligent, worldly, and upstanding.
Stash and Vanden head out and Courtney goes to meet up with her boyfriend Luis Carruthers, leaving Evelyn, Price, and Bateman behind to keep drinking. The three end up in Evelyn’s bedroom, with Evelyn preparing for sleep and the men lying on her bed. Price teases Bateman and Evelyn, subtly flirting with Price, tells him to knock it off. The three gossip about Courtney’s unhappy relationship, as well as the last time Bateman met (or believes he met) Stash. The men mock Stash for being such a strange artist-type.
Bateman, Price, and Evelyn are quick to talk about others behind their backs because they don’t have close, intimate connections to their friends; everything in their world is superficial. We learn that Courtney is dating Luis Carruthers, and that she seems to think as little of him as Price and Bateman do.
All of a sudden, Price is sitting behind Evelyn as she brushes her hair. Bateman watches as Price clearly flirts with Evelyn, even smelling and licking her neck and kneeling in front of her, trying to push his head up underneath her robe. Bateman tells the reader “I’m pretty sure that Timothy and Evelyn are having an affair. Timothy is the only interesting person I know.”
Bateman and Evelyn’s relationship is completely shallow, so he isn’t hurt by the thought of her having an affair. What’s more, the tone of his detailed descriptions of Price’s actions suggests that he may enjoy watching the two flirt in front of him. Perhaps the reason Bateman finds Price “interesting” is that he does not constrain himself (his thoughts, opinions) in the way Bateman currently does.
Evelyn abruptly announces that it’s time for Price to leave, and Bateman pushes him out of the apartment. The two men are both quite drunk. Bateman returns to the bedroom and crawls on top of Evelyn, passionlessly kissing her. He “[attempts] to have sex with her,” but she keeps interrupting, telling Bateman that Stash has been recently diagnosed with AIDS and will probably try to sleep with Vanden. She criticizes Bateman, telling him that he could be in better shape and asking if his hairline is receding. Eventually, Bateman gives up. He rolls off of Evelyn, finishes his last drink, and walks to his apartment, where he masturbates (thinking about Evelyn, then Courtney, then a model from a Calvin Klein ad.)
There is no love in Bateman and Evelyn’s relationship; they even seem to have a degree of animosity towards one another. Sexually, Bateman is more excited by the affairs he’s having and the other women he sees in the world than by his supposed girlfriend. To him, a woman is an object for his pleasure. Bateman and Evelyn’s conversation about AIDS reinforces it as a large force in this historical moment, and Bateman’s dismissal of the disease as unimportant reveals that he, too (like Price), considers such things to be concerns for those below him (like Stash).