‘I am blameless’: The Failure of the Father in American Psycho (Part 2 of 2)

Posted by Lynsay Smith on March 29, 2016 in Blog, Lynsay Smith tagged with , ,

AP.Whilst the role of Patrick Bateman’s mother is vital to understanding his delusional and psychotic behaviour, his father also contributes to his inability to establish a secure identity.  The father, who is mostly absent from the text, is shown to have destructive tendencies which negatively impact both of his children. In Rules of Attraction, Sean visits his father in hospital and states, ‘there was my father, already noticeably dying: his face yellowish . . . [he] had stopped drinking completely. (RoA, 266) It is apparent by this statement that Bateman’s father is an alcoholic and his jaundice skin highlights the severity of his addiction. This is significant when discussing Bateman’s behaviour as a parent who is dependent on alcohol can immensely impact a child’s development. Maria Gifford states children are ‘especially vulnerable to emotional, social, and psychological damage by having a parent who abuses alcohol’. Additionally, she notes that these individuals may ‘show depressive symptoms, such as obsessive perfectionism’.[1] Of course, this can be seen continually through Bateman’s obsession with his appearance and this is shown when he says, ‘I scrutinize my image in the mirror’ (AP, 356). This self-consciousness has resulted from an emotionally unavailable father figure whose instability influences the child’s own feelings of self-worth[2]. When Bateman discusses his father in American Psycho, he says,

[there was a] photograph of my father, when he was a much younger man, on my mother’s bedside table, next to a photograph of Sean and me when we were both teenagers, wearing tuxedos, neither one of us smiling . . . there’s something the matter with [my father’s] eyes. (AP, 352)

Both Sean and Patrick are shown to be unhappy during their adolescence and it is apparent that from a young age that the impact of the mother’s illness and the father’s alcoholism has affected their emotional stability. Furthermore, in adulthood, this trauma has influenced their own drug addictions. In Rules of Attraction, it is revealed that Sean is depressed, suicidal, and dependent on drugs; and, Patrick, who is severely impaired psychologically, rarely narrates a chapter in American psycho without drinking scotch or taking cocaine. Patrick’s reliance on alcohol is revealed when he says, ‘the J&B has relieved my stress’ (AP, 13). This shows that drinking is a way for Bateman to deal with frustration and numb his psychological angst. However, as alcohol and drugs exacerbate pre-existing mental health problems, these addictions only catalyse Patrick’s antisocial and aggressive behaviour. Thus it is evident that the influence of his father, who has failed to be a worthy role-model, has negatively impacted Patrick’s mental stability.

In Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis, it is the father rather than the mother who ensures the normative development of the child. The father represents the law, and prohibits the continuation of oedipal desires which ensures the child can become a separate and independent individual. For Lacan, this is not the literal father, but rather a symbol – the Name-of-the-Father – which serves as a prohibitive figure; a primal signifier of the law. When this signifier is foreclosed, it does not fulfil its prohibitive function during the Oedipus complex and paternal metaphor fails. Lacan concludes that it is this ‘defect that gives psychosis its essential condition’.[3] In American Psycho, the absence of a symbolic father is ensured due to the psychotic mother who undermines the literal father’s authoritative position[4]. The paternal metaphor thus fails to separate the strong oedipal bond to the mother which fuels Patrick’s aggression towards women and disturbs his self-identity. Alex Blazer speaks about this theory, and notes,

Patrick’s father, the one with the problematic eyes, failed to sever his son from the imaginary link with the psychotic mother and introduce him into the symbolic world. In an effort to stabilise his identity and diverge from self-destructive rage, Patrick grasps on to the prominent signifiers in his world – the trendy, faddy, and ultimately empty brand names that replace his dead father and in effect become his all-meaningful god.[5]

Bateman has constructed a false identity by commoditising himself and, essentially, he has become a conflation of brand names and products with no identifiable depth. Bateman admits this himself when he says, ‘myself is fabricated, an aberration’ (AP, 362). Again, it is clear that he has no identity because he did not progress successfully into the symbolic world and therefore he cannot differentiate between reality and imagination. Freud notes that, for a psychotic individual, reality is substituted and ‘remodelled’[6]. Evidently, Bateman has ‘remodelled’ himself and the external world around him so that everything appears on the surface; which is clearly a defence mechanism used to bury psychological trauma. However, the commodities which Patrick hides behind are ephemeral, and this is revealed when he says that ‘my mask of sanity’ is fading. Bateman literally applies face masks and wears designer clothes to construct a persona which will ‘mask’ his underlying emotional pain. Whilst these commodities partially conceal his insanity, they are a temporary, short-term solution. Freud notes that a psychotic individual cannot avoid reconstructing their reality to resemble past ‘memory-traces, ideas and judgements’[7]. Patrick’s reality is contains a compilation of haunting projections which threaten – and eventually destroy – his ‘fabricated’ reality. Inevitably, as Bateman’s father failed to prohibit the oedipal bond and ensure his son’s progression into the symbolic world, Patrick is forced to remain as a ‘noncontingent human being’ (AP, 362).

Undoubtedly, Patrick Bateman is the personification of misogyny, perversion, and consumption. However, while his depraved behaviour can be viewed as the product of a heartless, capitalist system, there is evidence that Bateman has experienced suffering throughout his life. Essentially, the novel raises questions regarding nature and nurture, and this is highlighted when Patrick himself asks, ‘Is evil something you are? Or something you do?’ (AP, 362). To subdue his suffering, Bateman has created a delusional world, wherein he can project his pain onto others. By killing these people, he is desperately trying to destroy his own psychological trauma and, therefore, Patrick Bateman can be described as both a victim and a villain.



[1] Maria L. Gifford, Biographies of Disease: Alcoholism, (Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood Press, 2010), p.87
[2] For more information on this topic, see: Lisa S. Pingree, ‘Adult Children of Alcoholics and Perfectionism’, (unpublished master’s thesis, University of Wisconsin-Stout, 1999)
[3] Jacques Lacan, Ecrits, [trans.] Bruce Fink, (New York: W.W Norton, 2006), p.479
[4] Lacan reveals that it is essential for the mother to promote the paternal metaphor in the household. If she does not, the Name-of-the-Father may be foreclosed from the child. See: Ibid, p.482
[5] Alex E. Blazer, ‘American Psycho, Hamlet, and Existential Psychosis’, Bret Easton Ellis: American Psycho, Glamorama, Lunar Park, [ed.] Naomi Mandell, (London: Continuum Books, 2011), p.47
[6] Sigmund Freud, ‘The Loss of Reality in Neurosis and Psychosis’, Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol.19, [eds.] Anna Freud and James Strachey, (London: Vintage Books, 2001), p.183
[7] Ibid, p.183

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