English A Language & Literature SL
English A Language & Literature SL
Sample Extended Essays
Sample Extended Essays
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20 mins Read
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3,944 Words

How does american psycho depict how our environment shapes toxic masculinity through the characterization of patrick bateman?

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Toxic masculinity is defined as a cultural concept in the notion of masculinity that idolises dominance and violence to assert superiority, resulting in harm to others and detrimental effects towards one’s own mental well-being (Dictionary.com). Common traits of toxic masculinity include physical aggression, restraint of emotional expression, and discrimination against the female gender. (Healthline.com) Toxic masculinity is a multifaceted concept that originates from the pressure to be ‘more like a man’.


In the vast expanse of Western media, the masculine identity is presented surrounding the compositions of harmful traits that seep into our cultural narratives. These harmful traits serve as a blueprint for our understanding of manhood, associated with the pressures of conformation, dominance, aggressive tendencies and stoicism (MedicalNewsToday.com). The depiction of masculinity forms a distorted expectation and understanding of gender roles for men. Hollywood has presented us with the concepts and criticisms of hegemonic ideals through several characters of diverse genres such as Fight Club and The Wolf of Wall Street. For instance, Fight Club captures the inner conflict of an emasculated man in a consumerist society, developing a separate alter ego which embodies hyper-masculinity to satisfy his own gender ideals. The film is a critique of the protagonist’s unstable mental space, which the audience experiences through his schizophrenic episodes of dissociating from reality (Complex.com). However, the media’s display of masculinity may be received as a lesson glorifying the idea that a successful man must be dominant, and violent, it may even nurture dangerous misogynistic ideals.


American Psycho is a film published in 1980s New York that illustrates the effects of hegemonic traditional ideals unravelling around the murders committed by Patrick Bateman, the protagonist. Mary Harron, the director of the film, portrays factors that cause men to fall under toxic masculine conformity; conveying the resulting harm caused to the perpetrator and his materialistic surroundings. Following a custom in psychological thrillers, the narrative of the film explores the cognitive nature of the characters (Toledolibrary.org). Often the characters embody features of mental instability, crime, unreliable narrators and most importantly, the comparison between fantasy and reality (Masterclass.com). Male characters of this particular genre showcase obsessive fantasies and emotional suppression, perpetuating them to commit a series of unfavourable actions (Crimereads.com). The theme of toxic hegemonic ideals is furthered through the director Mary Harron’s illustration of the villain protagonist - Patrick Bateman’s psychosis. The key feature that characterizes the helplessness of the protagonist is his isolation in the background setting of the 1980s New York materialistic society (Whitneyfoster.com). Within the movie, we observe Bateman battling with the inner conflict of his lust for murder. However, Harron integrates the theme of toxic masculinity within Bateman’s motives; as the audience, we observe the factor responsible for his murders, the inner conflict he struggles with within the realm of morality, and finally the effects of his actions.


In this extended essay, I will discuss how American Psycho serves as an alert—for our generation—of the detrimental effects of toxic masculinity through the investigation of the protagonist, Patrick Bateman, in terms of literary devices and stylistic ethereal choices. Firstly, Patrick Bateman’s masculine identity will be explored under a materialistic culture; followed by the analysis of his beliefs adhering to toxic masculinity through his display of stoicism and misogynistic views. Lastly, the effects of toxic masculinity will be examined through Bateman’s mental health and his resort to violence.

Materialism and identity

Materialism, explored in the narrative of American Psycho, is a common trait of masculine pride indicating affluence and prosperity. The word ‘materialism’ is defined as the belief that having money and possessions is the most important thing in life. (Cambridge Dictionary.org). Apparent in the setting of American Psycho, Patrick Bateman’s acquaintances display a philistine attitude; a key feature engraved in each character’s identity indistinguishable from the elite circle they represent.


Harron utilises metaphors in American Psycho to indicate hidden pressure which harms men adhering to toxic masculine ideals. The symbolism of the ranks of restaurants, it mirrors Bateman’s superficial beliefs, enabling Mary Harron to communicate the contribution towards a component of the amalgamation of Patrick Bateman’s masculine identity. The personification of Bateman’s frivolous view of the world is associated with the connotations of exasperation shown in “I’m on the verge of tears by the time we arrive at Espace, since I’m positive we won’t have a decent table. But we do, and relief washes over me in an awesome wave.” (10:17-10:27) Harron’s reference towards Bateman’s hyper fixation on the quality of the restaurant and table reinforces societal obsession towards ostentatious consumption in an effort to appear successful. The sheer importance Bateman puts on surface aesthetics is portrayed through the metaphor “I’m on the verge of tears” presenting the audience the irony that an adult would so easily be upset by shallow and pointless matters to delve into. However, in Bateman’s world, money and success are synonymous with determining social stratification. These values plague Bateman’s sense of identity, to be understood that his masculine persona revolves around material possessions, further indicating his emotional dependency on the external image. Haron makes use of Bateman’s pretentious surroundings to picture the possible male emotional dependence on physical possessions under the prey of a materialistic society.


Another example where the audience is introduced towards the importance of materialistic dependent social hierarchy in the 1980s. Mary Harron explores Bateman’s ideal of masculinity through the symbolism of the restaurant - Dorsia in the film. Although the Dorsia was never shown on screen, it is depicted that everyone is desperate to have a reservation at Dorsia, regarding it as the finest display of wealth. Bateman invites Courtney, his mistress to have dinner with him at Dorsia. Courtney first rejected him, and she then accepted his invitation after she heard it was at Dorsia:

Figure 1 - Courtney Rejecting Bateman (American Psycho, 00:15:06)
Figure 2 - Courtney Looking Foward To Go To Dorsia (American Psycho, 00:15:15)

Here, through the symbolism of Dorsia, the societal idea of a dominant successful man in the 1980s presented in two different examples. On one hand, the women in American Psycho believe the value of a man is measured via the financial satisfaction they can provide. Courtney first rejects Bateman to call with her boyfriend (Luis Carruthers) sounding agitated “I have to go.’ ‘Courtney?’ ‘Hmm?’ ‘Dinner!’ ‘I can’t!’ ” (15:06-15:08) She then has a change of heart and lowers her voice when Bateman offers to take her to Dorsia. “Dorsia’s nice” (15:13) This indicates her change of prioritising the men in her life. The change of priority symbolizes the social norm during that time period influencing the value that a desirable male partner should be able to provide materialistic satisfaction towards a woman. This conveys to the audience that under this influence, the men present in that society would also adjust their values in order to select a more affluent self-image to please women. According to The Association of Consumer Research, in consumerist cultures, the price tag and brand of one’s possession are identical to personal satisfaction as much as a way to assert oneself dominance towards others relative to one’s ranking in the competition (Arcwebsite.org) . Therefore seen in Courtney’s reaction, consumerist culture influences men’s financial decisions apparent to their conceptualisation of a masculine ideology.


Finally, American Psycho accurately depicts the anxiety experienced by a man under the influence of a materialistic culture as the identity of manhood gets bruised. Toxic masculinity exists in the form of a man’s ego and pride in their gender identity; Bateman associates his identity surrounding striving for absolute power and success in a possession-oriented society, thereby habitually manifesting in his actions of establishing superiority over others. In the Figure 3 scene, Bateman gets infuriated when his colleague (Bryce) prefers another person’s (Van Patten) card over his own -

Figure 3 - Bateman Hyper-focusing On Paul Allen’s Name Card (American Psycho, 00:20:00)

Here, when looking at Paul Allen’s name card, Bateman gets overwhelmed and analyses the design of the card internally, “Look at that subtle off-white colouring, the tasteful thickness of it. Oh my god, it even has a watermark.” (19:50-20:02) He then gets quiet and tremblingly drops the card. Bateman perceives Paul Allen with a higher social standing compared to himself and feels threatened by him. He seeks areas to compare with Allen in an effort to comfort his self-image of narcissistic superiority. Mary Harron utilizes a slo-mo close-up shot of Paul Allen’s card to establish Bateman’s mental pressure upon assessing it. The slo-mo shot is only applied to Paul Allen’s name card, drawing the audience’s attention towards the design details of the name cards, which all are similar with minor differences. Harron displays this irony as Bateman and his colleagues put major importance on this feature to determine who is more dominant in a materialistic setting. The physical act of trembling is a display of Bateman’s destroyed sense of self, showing the audience the mental process that occurs in a threatened man with fragile masculinity. The pressure Bateman feels stems from his injured sense of self-complacent, and the fear of others perceiving him as someone lesser. The director depicts the amalgamations of feelings of a fragile masculine man harbouring hatred towards a(n) intimidator; indicating the building up rage forms an unhealthy paranoia towards society.

Stoicism and misogyny

Complementary personality traits of Patrick Bateman that isolate him from society due to his lack of emotional expression. Bateman’s isolation is further instilled by his misogynist values and the way he exploits women solely for sexual pleasure and fails to form genuinely romantic relationships. Stoicism is like a ticking time bomb that would reach a limit, exploding and not only hurting others but also oneself. The adaptation to stoicism causes one to appear cold, thereby unable to form close and affectionate relations with others, further isolating oneself from the freedom to be humane. (Bigthink.com). Misogyny is often exemplified by men in social settings to exert control over women through objectification. This reduces women to an inanimate product existing as a possession of men; allowing men to feel more secure of their social standing in the given area of context.


Bateman’s lack of emotional expression is evident in his continuation of a meticulous daily routine whilst enduring psychological pain. His external facade of a man with social affluence with extreme belief in stoicism has begun to affect his emotional well-being. The director makes use of Bateman’s soliloquy to reveal his internal suffering between balancing his secret appetite for murder and his identity as a banker at Wall Street. “I have all the characteristics of a human being, flesh, blood, skin, hair, but not a single clear identifiable emotion; except for greed and disgust” (22:30-22:45). Here, Harron corroborates Bateman’s perspective towards his external identity as an outsider through the use of enumeration. It is conveyed that Bateman views his body as an external facade in society, indicating his detachment from his own humanity. This clear distinction of separated identities within his mind further establishes that Bateman experiences psychological isolation from others within his social circle. It captures Bateman's sense of detachment and commitment to stoicism, highlighting his dissociation from genuine human emotions. The next line “Something horrible is happening inside of me, and I don’t know why. My nightly blood lust has overflowed into my days. I feel lethal, on the verge of frenzy. I think my mask of sanity is about to slip” (22:45-23:18). Harron uses suspensive diction to indicate Bateman’s increasingly apparent psychosis. The use of “overflowed” suggests Bateman’s inability to control acting on his violent impulses, integrating his fantasies into his daily life. Harron’s use of “lethal” indicates that Bateman views himself as a threat towards others as he approaches towards ‘the verge of frenzy’, in reference to his progressively irrational behaviours, causing him to be more uncontrollable of his urge to kill. In the concluding sentence, Bateman refers to his normalcy as “sanity”. As his sanity starts to slip, it refers to Bateman’s fears of his violent pursuits dominating over his everyday life. The audience is presented with an example of emotional unavailability, creating a negative mental space indicating Bateman’s suffering. Mary Harron exerts the effects of stoicism on a man’s mental well-being, causing derealization of one from their identity.


Misogyny in American Psycho translates in the form of Patrick Bateman’s relationship. Bateman’s stoic attitude towards human connections results in a minimal attempt to nurture a healthy romantic connection with a partner. The objectification of Evelyn and Courtney insinuates his toxic beliefs of a woman as an extension of a man. At Evelyn’s Christmas party, the nature of Bateman’s and Evelyn’s relationship is revealed. Evelyn talks to Bateman “Stop scowling Patrick you’re such a Grinch. What does Mr Grinch want for Christmas? And don’t say ‘breast implants’ again.” (24:07-24:13) Evelyn’s dialogue mentions Bateman wanted her to have breast augmentation surgery. Mary Harron uses this humorous line to display Bateman’s misogynistic views on female gender roles. The comfort he has in saying this to Evelyn indicates his perspective that Evelyn is a trophy wife; to increase his own social value with the appearance of a perfect relationship. Therefore he puts importance on Evelyn’s appearance to maintain his social elitism. This belief is also reflected in his infidelity with Courtney, whom he often uses as a tool to validate his masculinity. In the scene after sexual activity with Courtney, Bateman immediately gets up and dresses himself ready to leave. Courtney lights up a cigarette to which Bateman says “I never knew you smoked”, “You never noticed” Courtney replies. (52:48-52:53) Harron highlights the lack of emotional depth of Bateman’s relationship with Courtney through his neglectful treatment towards women. When faced with an opportunity to learn more about Courtney’s character, Bateman instead replies to her with a compliment. “Can we talk?” “You look marvelous” (52:57-53:07) This scene illustrates the unemotional tendencies of a toxic masculine man to reject emotional commitment. The origin of Bateman’s inability to withhold romantic relationships stems from the misogynistic belief that women are an object for sexual pleasure. The disregard for Courtney’s feelings and instead replying to her with a shallow compliment on her physical appearance indicates Bateman’s avoidance of committing to a relationship. The effect of dehumanizing a woman's emotions is a result of his dissociation from his emotions.


However, the positive effects of emotional connection towards a man with traditional gender stereotypes are shown through Jean’s character. Throughout the film, Jean constantly displays kindness towards Bateman, attempting to understand his personality. Bateman has a tendency to hurt women he encounters, however, he decides to let Jean leave after an attempt to murder her in a psychopathic state. Jean questions Bateman if he has ever wanted to make someone happy, whilst Bateman points a nail gun to her head, he replies: “I guess you could say I just want to have a meaningful relationship with someone special.” (1:02:30-1:02-45) Upon pressing the trigger to hurt Jean, there is a flash of doubtfulness in his actions where he adjusts his finger on the trigger. Mary Harron juxtaposes Bateman’s tendency to hurt others with the doubt of pulling the trigger. It is the first time Bateman shows a desire for emotional intimacy with someone. Jean’s kindness in understanding Bateman may have touched him and humanized him in his own understanding. Bateman tells Jean to leave after a voicemail from Evelyn “I think if you stay, something bad might happen. I might hurt you.” (1:04:15-1:04:25) Mary Harron portrays Bateman’s first time genuinely conveying his thoughts to another person. The gentle change in tone indicates that Bateman evoked a sense of guilt in him that made him hesitant to harm Jean. The audience observes Bateman’s humanity for the first time through the way he replies to Jean’s following reminder of his schedule for the next day. “Thanks. Slipped my mind completely” (1:04:45-1:04:48) This gentle diction and lowered tone of voice signify Bateman connecting reality for once. He seems to temporarily forget about his violent fantasies and experience compassion for others. The authorial choice of including this scene is to show the importance of the environment in nurturing a mentally healthy man. Jean’s authenticity was able to sensitize Bateman to question his megalomaniac actions for once. Therefore, Mary Harron suggests that the environment plays a big factor in preventing men from upholding toxic masculine ideals. The key to helping men open up about their emotions is through showing genuine compassion and validating their feelings.

Mental health and violence

The violent nature plays a vital role in demonstrating the internal satisfaction of Patrick Bateman asserting superiority over others. The most evident characteristic of Bateman that sets him aside from other characters in the story. Harron associates the motif of the brutality to the pressure Bateman represses from conforming to the consumerist society; displaying the behaviour of belligerence as a form of ventilating pent-up emotions.


The result of the pressure of adhering to unhealthy social expectations is reflected in the murder of Paul Allen. Bateman views Allen as a threat towards his masculinity. The climax of Bateman’s envious frustration towards Paul Allen results in his act of murdering him. After striking Allen with an axe, Bateman yells “Try getting a reservation at Dorsia now, you fucking stupid bastard!” (28:23-28:28) Harron conveys Bateman’s release of his vindictive feelings whilst murdering Allen with the choice of profanity and a tone of anger. The vulgar diction choice of “you stupid fucking bastard” displays the emotional intensity Bateman experiences. “Stupid” suggests the lack of intelligence, “fucking” is used as a tonal intensifier emphasising the context of the message, “bastard” is used as a derogatory term to insult the victim. Combined together, Harron evokes the aggressive nature of Bateman, the use of profanity attempting to preserve the power dynamic of the two’s relationship. The act of belittling Allen satisfies Bateman’s need for dominance. Mary Harron also illustrates Bateman’s psychosis through the use of mood and tone. Before murdering Allen, Bateman has a heightened emotion where he dances and talks in exultation. Bateman’s irrational reaction could be understood as his deteriorating sense of morality and mental state. The act of murdering Paul Allen serves as an exertion of superiority, ending the reason that causes him to feel less masculine dominance. Bateman’s abnormal expression of happiness signifies the distortion of his reality, the progression of detachment from empathetic feelings, showing his readily deteriorating state of mind.


The evidence for Bateman’s dissociation from mental stability is shown through his rant about Huey Lewis (music band) before killing Paul Allen. As he plays “Hips to be Square”, he recites a seemingly practiced commentary on Huey Lewis. This monologue commentary on Huey Lewis reveals Bateman’s acknowledgement of his increasingly unstable mental state, “The song’s so catchy. Most people probably don’t listen to the lyrics. But they should! Because it’s not just about the pleasures of conformity and the importance of trends, it's also a personal statement about the band itself.” (28:03-28:14) Bateman displays his discontentment towards his current social standing through the metaphor of his monologue.. “Most people probably don’t listen to the lyrics!” indicating that consumerism focuses on the surface-level company, “lyrics” here symbolize the qualities of an individual, portraying that people under the stratified social classes of the 1980s rather indulge in shallow relationships without understanding one’s character. Bateman displays his concern for deeper emotional engagement with people, putting importance on the people’s values on empty socializing. “Pleasure of conformity and trends' illustrates that people conform towards social norms with no critical analysis of the harms it brings. Bateman refers to the “personal statement about the band itself” suggesting the expression of values should be prioritized in an interaction. Overall, Mary Harron critiques the shallow culture of the 1980s through Bateman’s commentary. Bateman’s commentary reflects the motif of his actions originating from the cultural norm of ignorance; showing the lack of emotional connection between people harbouring a negative environment for both men and women to be in.


Bateman’s greed for dominance as a power-hungry individual is mirrored through his sex life. The nature of Bateman's seeking validation from women shows through his attitude towards sexual intercourse. After the murder of Allen, Bateman celebrates his regained masculinity through sexual intercourse with two prostitutes. Harron delineates the idea that Bateman exploits women for his own desires. This is apparent through his preference for blonde women and asserting roles to the prostitutes. “You’re Christie. You only respond to Christie. Is that clear?” (38:58-39:02) Bateman’s use of authoritative diction here to assert control over women. He quickly establishes superiority over Christie reinforcing his belief of women serving subservient roles. The action of assigning the prostitute a substitute name without her consent shows Bateman’s objectification of women. This firmly conveys to the audience that Bateman uses sexual activity in order to satisfy his own needs dismissing the partner he is with.


The continued portrayal of Bateman’s lust for dominance through his absolute attitude, the idea that a woman looks up to and craves his sexual attention. This distorted view of sexual activity indicates the effects of toxic masculinity on the nature of sexual relations. Bateman proudly lists his achievements despite the prostitutes are not interested. This reveals his intention of desiring attention from others, deviating from the normal ignorant social interactions he has daily. Harron displays Bateman as a narcissist who uses sexual intercourse to help boost his masculine pride. The series of close-up shots of Bateman while having intercourse is to show his attention to himself:

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  • Figure 4 - Bateman Focusing At His Physique (American Psycho, 00:44:31)
    Figure 5 - Bateman Demanding The Prostitutes To Look At The Camera (American Psycho,00:44:37 )

    Bateman’s behaviour during intercourse reflects his deep-rooted narcissism embodying his toxic masculine ideals. The close-up shot of Bateman looking at himself in the mirror and telling the prostitute to look at the camera is a form of self-absorption with his own appearance. The act of intercourse makes him feel powerful to be able to control others, focusing on only his satisfaction. Harron shows Bateman’s embodiment of toxic masculine cultures, his behaviour reflects his depersonalisation with others around him, refraining him from engaging in genuine reciprocal sexual experiences. Therefore, Harron successfully displays the harms of toxic masculinity from Bateman’s inability to experience authentic human experiences. The deep-seated belief of dissociating from reality causes harm towards their own masculine identity, resulting in empty humane connections harming one’s mental well-being.

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  • Conclusion

    The manifestation of toxic masculinity in Patrick Bateman from American Psycho is investigated through the motivations of his character. The depiction of toxic masculinity is first caused by the pressure to conform towards society causing Bateman’s alienation. The dissatisfaction from living a shallow life then fuels unhealthy obsessions to gain dominance. Lastly, the way of gaining dominance may result in violent behaviours and degrading sexual acts.


    Patrick Bateman was created as a reflection of men in the materialistic society he represents. Bateman’s obsession with dominance and his murders is metaphorically symbolising the men who conform towards toxic masculinity often need to maintain the power dynamic of a relationship with others. The narrative illustrates the consequences of adhering to societal pressures that enforce rigid gender roles and suppress authentic emotions. Ironically, social media views Bateman as an ideal of masculinity, indirectly fulfilling the idea that young adults idolize toxic masculinity to be a man (WashingToneExaminer.com). Society still fails to educate young men to discover their individualistic masculine identities; resulting in more people falling prey towards the idea of a dominant male in a social setting.


    Therefore, American Psycho is more than a piece of dark literature that reveals the raw nature of reality. It is a satirical commentary on surface-level efforts to find belongingness in a cold society. The fiction is also an awakening for people to critically view masculinity; where masculinity can embrace vulnerable emotions and have healthy relationships without emotional abstinence. In conclusion, toxic masculinity presents itself as a destructive force that eradicates one’s humanity and compassion.


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