Monday, August 27, 2012

Revealing the Truth in Psycho

Psycho may have been a short book, and I may have seen the movie a few times before, but the reading experience added to my conceptualization of this tale. I'll be honest: it's been years since I've seen the film. So, although I knew the story and remembered the two famous scenes (the shower murder and the dead mother revelation), the gooey goodness that holds this work together had been lost in me memory. That forgotten goodness, however, was pretty delicious upon revisitation.

A major contributor to why Psycho works well is because of how it handles revelation. I can't imagine picking this book up and not knowing Bates has a multiple personality disorder, he's the murderer dressing up as his mother, and his mother is actually a corpse--I think babies come out of the womb these days knowing the spoilers to this story--but let's try to look at how the story works if I had known nothing relating to it.

Bates admits he has problems from the get go: he mentions the possibility of having a Freudian complex and mentions he and his mother both might be in danger of being institutionalized. Readers are not given any reason to doubt the narration covering Bates’s POV because he admits he's a little less than sane. Isn’t admitting you’re not sane one of the first steps in being sane?

During the shower scene, the murderer is described as being a crazy old lady. This second POV, from the eyes of trusty Mary, gives readers every reason to believe the mother is alive and on a murderer spree. After the shower murder, Bates has a conversation with his mother. The dialogue is handled like regular dialogue, so readers assume someone is actually speaking, that the words aren't just in Bates's mind. A tricky deception, but it works because no one else is present in the room and the conversation is real for Bates.

The first revelation of Bates’s psychosis comes from the sheriff. While discussing the missing investigator, the sheriff mentions the investigator lied about going to talk to Bates’s mother because Bates’s mother killed herself years before. Readers are flabbergasted by this revelation. The story has articulated the mother's presence so well that the assumption is made that the sheriff must be wrong; the mother spoke a direct quote for crying out loud. However, Bates has hinted to the fact of his mental instability, so readers gather that maybe the narration has played a few tricks.

A bit later, Bates admits to Sam that he dug up his mother, but this conversation happens so quickly, readers are left wondering if Bates is out of his mind or if some form of black magic is taking place, since so much foreshadowing has been given to the occultist books Bates has read over the years. This book is called Psycho, though, so readers assume the explanation is not supernatural. However, at this point, the complexity of the mystery leaves readers skewed, fragmented on the truth behind the situation: readers have gotten into the confused mind of Norman Bates, unsure what’s really happening, because the story is working so well.

The final revelation coincides with the end. Lila finds the stuffed body of Bates's mother. That solidifies the idea that she's a goner and that Bates is psychotic. The final pages quickly wrap up the story, giving a layman's-termed explanation through Sam so that readers are not overwhelmed or confused by psychological jargon. Although a few issues are not fully explained, the ending works in solidifying Bates’s mental state. And, of course, the most sane personality inside Bates is lost, giving way to the mother personality, which has prepared to be institutionalized, as long as they don't execute her. Her sanity is further clarified when her final thoughts illustrate that how she treats a fly really might determine the judgment she receives. Sorry, Ms. Bates, but not so much luck there.

I must also mention that I have referred to one of the fragmented personalities as a she and mother. Psycho works well in characterizing the distinct personality of the mother, differentiating it from Bates. The separate personalities are clear enough to have separate pronouns, a sign that this book succeeded in illustrating the complexity of the problems inside Norman Bates’s mind; the book does not reduce Bates to a shallow, two-dimensional representation of a murderer. Well done, Bloch. Well done.