Patrick Bateman: The American Male

In 2000, director Mary Harron released the black comedy psychological thriller American Psycho, based on Bret Easton Ellis’s 1991 novel of the same name. Both follow the life of Patrick Bateman, a homocidal Wall Street investment banker living in Manhattan in the 1980’s. His superficial perfectionism—complete with socialite fiancee Evelyn, hard-earned physique, and lavish Upper West Side apartment—is combined with a deadly inclination to torture and kill innocent victims, most of whom are women. Harron describes the story as “a brilliant social satire and a devastating portrait of the 1980s” wherein Patrick Bateman—played by Christian Bale—is the embodiment of the decade’s materialism and general excess (“American Psycho”). Though American Psycho has primarily been received as a critique of the consumerist nature of 1980’s America, this “social satire” can be expanded to encompass America’s problematic understanding of and obsession with masculinity. Bateman’s tendencies towards dominance, power, acquisitiveness, and violence offer a removed and objective criticism of this limited definition of American masculinity and the psychological phenomenon of hyper-masculinity.

Masculinity as a western social construct emphasizes wealth, power, social status, stoicism, physical strength, and acquisitiveness—a limited definition that, according to the American Psychological Association can breed “emotionally stunted” men with a tendency towards violence (Clay 52). By this definition, anything associated with women is inherently not masculine, and men can experience a “flight from the feminine” in trying to affirm their manhood to others and to themselves (Clay 52). Thus, men attempt to avoid depth of emotion for fear of seeming weak and can perceive other men and women in a distorted manner that engenders “discrimination and sexualized violence” (Clay 52). Patrick Bateman satisfies all of these qualifications of problematic masculinity: he has money and displays of such wealth; he is physically fit and attractive to women; his career and lifestyle designate him as elite; and, most disturbingly, he describes himself as having “not a single, clear, identifiable emotion, except for greed and disgust” (American Psycho). These characteristics prove to be a deadly combination, in instances both in real life and with Patrick Bateman, who sheds his humanity in pursuit of the masculine, claiming on more than one occasion that “there is no real me” and that “I simply am not there” (American Psycho). Patrick Bateman’s exaggerated characteristics and circumstances make him into a caricature of American masculinity that—through humor and sheer extravagance—satirizes this gendered social construct.

Patrick Bateman is obsessed with the accumulation of wealth as a means to achieve what he and other perceive to be power and social status. He verbally connects his wealth with his violence, frequently citing the malapropism “murders and executions” when asked of his career (“mergers and acquisitions” at Pierce & Pierce investing). Adding to this witty banter is the fact that no one actually hears him say this; it’s usually in loud places, like night clubs, so that even though he is exposing his true interests, people only notice him expressing his wealth and status. His Upper West Side apartment is immaculately clean and well put-together, and upon seeing that his coworker and victim Paul Allen’s apartment is “overlooking the park and obviously more expensive than mine” he has a moment of “sheer panic” (American Psycho). His fear of having the lesser home is comedic, but the humor and exaggeration actually emphasizes the truth of the scenario. The satire is intensified when, at the end of the movie, Patrick Bateman’s psychological state begins to erode entirely and the lines between truth and fantasy are blurred. He admits his murders to his lawyer, who mistakes him for another investor—Davis—and laughs about how “Davis” mocked Bateman by ascribing these atrocious murders to him. Bateman is frequently confused for other partners of Pierce & Pierce, and though comedic, it emphasizes his loss of identity and humanity, playing into “an idea of a Patrick Bateman; some kind of abstraction” but no “real” Bateman (American Psycho). His lawyer goes on to say that he had dinner with Paul Allen twice in London just a week ago, so Bateman couldn’t have killed him. The fact that these murders were a figment of Patrick’s imagination doesn’t take away from their potency, but simply increases the irony and thus the satire of the story with regards to masculinity’s emphasis on violence, accumulation of wealth and status, and a lack of emotional depth.

In accordance with the “flight from the feminine,” Patrick Bateman objectifies women and views them as having the same importance and purpose as his wealth—as a display of power and social status, and thus masculinity. Similarly to his reason for keeping his job, he is engaged to marry the popular and conventionally attractive Evelyn “because I want to fit in” (American Psycho). He refers to her as his “supposed fiancee” and tells her “you’re not terribly important to me” (American Psycho). He has countless affairs with prostitutes and other women during his engagement to Evelyn, and most of these women end up becoming his murder victims. His misogyny ranges from this extreme violence to casual sexist remarks like saying in unison with his colleagues that “there are no girls with good personalities” and that a restaurant they dislike is a “chick restaurant” (American Psycho). He even jokingly quotes serial killer Ed Gein: “When I see a pretty girl walking down the street, I think two things. One part wants me to take her out, talk to her, be real nice and sweet and treat her right […] [and the other part thinks] what her head would look like on a stick” (American Psycho). This extreme sexualized violence and objectification of women stems from his poor understanding of masculinity, which he translates into actual sexual experiences with women. He uses domination and violent treatment of them as a means to combat and control effeminate threats, emphasizing his importance over theirs by going so far as to change two prostitutes names for the evening. “You’ll respond only to Christie,” he tells one escort, and to the other, “I’m going to call you Sabrina” (American Psycho). The act of paying women for sex is demeaning and objectifying in itself, but he takes it farther by removing their identities and then physically abusing them. He orchestrates the entire experience like a pornographic film—he does actually film it—and stares at himself in the mirror while flexing during various sexual positions. Harron directed the scene to be funny to enhance the satire of it, and through this scene viewers further understand Bateman’s distorted perception of women and of himself. For him, this experience is not sexual; it’s a way for him to enhance his perception of his own masculinity through the domination of women. He physically assaults the prostitutes at the end of the night, and in a different encounter with “Christie” and another prostitute, he violently murders them. To Patrick Bateman, women and wealth are the same thing: materials to be gained as a show of masculinity, and a scale with which he can compare himself to the other elites of society.

Bateman’s bigotry is not limited to women; he also is a racist and classist, consistently using the vulnerable as stepping stones towards heightened masculinity. His racism isn’t as emphasized in the movie as in the novel, but he does make several snide remarks regarding Black people, including citing singer Huey Lewis as “too black sounding” for his liking (American Psycho). His classism is more prominent, having killed “some homeless people, maybe five or ten” (American Psycho). Like the women he murdered, he can’t distinguish one homeless person from another because he doesn’t view them or treat them with humanity; only as objects. The only scene where we actually witness one of these murders takes place after Bateman and his colleagues compare business cards, and Bateman’s isn’t the best. To release his anger from this incident of competitive loss that threatened his masculinity, he approaches a homeless man in an alley and berates him: “Why don’t you get a job? […] You reek of shit” (American Psycho). Finally, he says “I don’t have anything in common with you” and stabs him to death, killing his dog afterwards. It’s one of the most disturbing scenes in the movie. Harron had chosen to omit much of the violence described in the book to “capitalize on the humor” and “draw out the tale’s satirical essence” (“American Psycho”). This scene, however, is cold-hearted and distressing, though not particularly graphic. The targeting of an innocent and vulnerable man and an even more helpless dog resonates with viewers because of its brutality, serving as one of the first points in which we can recognize Patrick Bateman as the emotionless, violent, superficial man he is. This man was deprived of his humanity—like the prostitutes—and used as another object for Bateman to capitalize on in an attempt to gain back the masculinity he “lost” during the comparison of business cards previously in the night.

The other group Bateman targets in an attempt to emphasize his masculinity, among women, racial minorities, and the homeless, is the LGBTQ community. Gay men are excluded from traditional American ideas of masculinity and so straight men sometimes perceive homosexuality as a threat to their own masculinity. He admits to having killed “some old f****t with a dog” in Central Park, and frequently uses this derogatory remark throughout the film.  Actually one of the funnier scenes in the movie, Bateman puts on gloves and attempts to strangle his coworker, Luis Carruthers, in a restaurant bathroom. Again, this incident occurred after Bateman was once more shown to possess the lesser business card in comparison to Carruthers’ new one. However, Carruthers mistook Bateman’s shaky hands around his neck as a sign of affection and goes on to say “You can’t imagine how long I’ve wanted this” and remarking on Bateman’s “hot body” (American Psycho). Bateman is so disgusted with having been affectionately touched and spoken to by a man that he washes his gloves in the sink and promptly leaves. Psychologists in the American Psychological Association stated that “being called gay is often the worst possible insult among adolescent boys” because it questions a boy’s masculinity (since gay men are perceived as less “male” than straight men), so Patrick Bateman’s irrational fear of gayness further exaggerates his caricature as the stereotypical American male (Clay 52). It’s a disgusting example of homophobia, but the humor, as Harron intended, emphasized the satire and ridiculousness of the moment, since Bateman perceived something so innocent as affection as a serious affront to his manliness.

Interpretations of the character Patrick Bateman claim he was seeking revenge on the society that made him, or cite that he was acting out of a “primal need to be traditionally manly” (McCray). However, these are inaccurate interpretations in that Ellis and Harron both attempt to make it very clear that there is no excuse for his behavior. The humor saturating the story highlights the satire of it, as does Bateman’s absurdly violent and ill-matched reactions to stress-scenarios. Bateman doesn’t want revenge, because he targets women, minorities, the homeless, and gay men; these individuals aren’t the main perpetrators in creating a system of American masculinity. He certainly isn’t resorting to “primal” behavior, because American Psycho is a satire of modern American culture. Revenge can’t be sought on society by him because viewers watch Patrick Bateman on occasion after occasion make laughably violent and hateful choices of his own accord out of fear of not being masculine enough. It’s important to note, however, that we do not dislike Patrick Bateman for this, nor do we pity him or feel anything in particular towards him. The satire of the story allows us to perceive him in an objective manner in which we know that what he’s doing is wrong, but we don’t feel personally offended by it. The story has been extremely controversial however, and the book (which emphasizes violence significantly more than the movie) can’t be sold to minors in countries such as Germany, Australia, and New Zealand. Feminist activist Gloria Steinem also attempted to persuade Christian Bale to not take the role of Patrick Bateman due to the story’s exploitative and violent treatment of women. These interpretations fail to realize the satire of the story, without which it might look a lot like a slasher flick that focuses on violence towards women, gay men, and racial minorities. Patrick Bateman isn’t a victim of society, nor a villain of it: he is society, the exaggerated embodiment of not only American consumerism and materialism, but also the problematic American understanding of what constitutes masculinity. We do not pity Bateman, nor hate him, but we simply watch the circumstances surrounding him unfold and take it for what it is.

 

Works Cited

American Psycho. Dir. Mary Harron. Perf. Christian Bale. Lions Gate Films, 2000. Netflix. Web.

“American Psycho.” Vintage Screening Room. N.p., n.d. Web. <https://www.randomhouse.com/ vintage/screen/books/psycho.html>.

Clay, Rebecca A. “Redefining Masculinity: Three Psychologists Strive to Build a ‘better’ Man.” American Psychological Association 43.6 (2012): 52. American Psychological Association. Web.

McCray, Sean, “Masculinity and the Postmodern in American Psycho and Fight Club” (2006). Masters Theses & Specialist Projects. Paper 297. <http://digitalcommons.wku.edu/theses/297>.

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Let’s Talk About Sex[ual Violence], Baby

Mark Z. Danielewski’s debut novel House of Leaves is known most notedly for its self-aware structure, nesting doll style of narration, satirical nature, and, of course, its sheer creepiness. The novel’s themes of mental illness, suicide, addiction, and repression have been thoroughly analyzed in publications such as The New York Times and Purdue University’s peer-reviewed academic journal Modern Fiction Studies, as well as in countless online forums. Critics and fans of the novel have failed, however, to analyze the various instances of sexual violence in the novel and the role that they play in our interpretation of the text. The inclusion of rape, incest, molestation, and sexual assault in the plot, dialogue, and character histories influences the meaning of the characters, the house on Ash Tree Lane, and even the emotions of the characters—most notedly the characters’ feelings of something uncanny. Uncanny is defined in the novel as a sense of “not-being-at-home” (page 25) so readers can—and should—connect the uncanny nature of the house to how some unexplainable thing might feel wrong for a long time after being a victim of sexual violence, especially when the event is repressed. The prominence of sexual violence in House of Leaves and its omittance from analysis only emphasizes its importance when finally reviewed, and the instances, references, and effects of sexual violence chronicled by the novel connect so heavily to the other more obvious themes that we must realign our understanding of the book as a whole and view the house as a parallel to something rather than taking it at face value.

First and foremost, the consequences of sexual violence as described in the novel parallels the effects that the Ash Tree Lane house has on its visitors. The words “sex” and “sexual” are used on 18 pages throughout the book, and “rape” is used on four (as indicated in the Index); however, there are also other descriptions of both sex and sexual violence in the novel. Karen Green and Clara English—two of the more developed characters—both either state or imply that they have been victims of rape in the past. Several other characters have sexually violent histories assigned to them by Johnny Truant after he undergoes the transition from toying with sex—going to far as to flirt with his stripper love interest by “sticking exclusively to the subject of sex”—to viewing sex as a conduit to “desire and pain” (Danielewski 105, 265). Karen and her husband Will also view sex as something positive, and a lack of as a problem indicative of deeper marital issues (Danielewski 62). These characters, like most people, understand that sexual experiences are supposed to bring happiness, entertainment, and sometimes connectedness. In a similar fashion, the characters, like most people, also believe that our homes are expected to be a place of peace, contentedness, and comfort. When either of these pleasures are manipulated into something sinister, it becomes “surprising, unsettling, disturbing but most of all uncanny” (Danieleski 24). Billy Reston furthers the connection by directly referring to the house’s unexplainable physical anomaly as a “goddamn spatial rape” (Danielewski 55). Its foreignness and impossibility are uncomfortable, stressing Karen and Will’s emotional and physical intimacy alike. Karen is anxious and extremely claustrophobic, and the house aggravates this by reminding her of her own childhood rape. She grows increasingly distant from Will as he tries to explore the “rape” of their home, and their marriage is only fixed in the end, when she overcomes both her sexually violent history and her fear of the house.

Karen Green’s adolescent sexual trauma left permanent emotional scars that, when exacerbated by the house’s strangeness, caused her to withdraw from any physical or emotional affection. Her estranged sister claims that their step-father once raped them both and trapped them in a well outside, and although Karen denies this, her sudden disengagement and aloofness around the time of the purported event is indicative of trauma. She began practicing her smile in the mirror and “hardly spoke in class,” transforming from an outspoken tomboy into the epitome of high school popularity (Danielewski 58). She later became a model—literally—of the sexually perfect female, her practiced smile “tragically […] flawless” (Danielewski 59). Her perfection was feigned, and a professional in the novel suspected that her severe panic attacks and claustrophobia “stemmed from early adolescent betrayal” and “increased proportionally with the level of intimacy [experienced]” (Danielewski 59). When the closet—the first mystifying aspect of the house—appears between her bedroom and her children’s bedroom, her sexuality changed. She and Will had been enjoying an increase in physical affection, but after the appearance of the closet, she admits “I can’t. I don’t know why. It terrifies me.” (Danielewski 62). Not only is she explaining that she “can’t” emotionally or logically process the so-called “spatial rape” of her home, she is also explaining that its appearance makes her uncomfortable with her husband’s sexual advances; thus it is no accident that the closet is attached to their bedroom. Will is equally as perplexed and disturbed as she by her abrupt change, explaining that whenever he makes so innocent of a sexual advance as trying to kiss her, “she practically starts to cry” (Danielewski 62). The disruption of Karen’s home psychologically affects her in a very similar way that her sexual trauma does, and so these two instances which seem completely separate both begin to be viewed as a “rape.”

Like Karen, Johnny Truant also undergoes a mental transition in the novel with regards to sex, viewing it as something possibly sinister after his love interest Clara English admits to him that she was once raped. This confession haunts him for years, and he compares it to the emergence of “sharp thorns” that “spiked with hurt” and held a “poisonous bloom” (Danielewski 264). The profound effect his realization that sex can be malicious has on him and his analogy to describe it is truly interesting. Johnny refers to his mindset prior to Clara’s confession as a “blissful bower,” and afterwards it falls, “overrun by weeds and vines” (Danielewski 264). A bower can be defined as a cage, a woman’s bedroom in a castle, a leafy shelter in a garden, or as a structure made during courtship displays by the male bower bird. Thus, interpretations of his analogy include, respectively, that: The cage of ignorance in his mind has been opened to dangerous new knowledge; Women’s bedrooms literally and figuratively aren’t safe; His innocence is changed as the Garden of Eden’s innocence changed; And lastly, his willingness or ability to attract women has fallen. Defining bower as a woman’s bedroom is especially poignant since it directly connects one’s sexuality and one’s home, again playing into the idea of “spatial rape.” It’s powerful imagery with any interpretation, but Johnny’s main purpose for his analogy is to explain that his delicate, flower-like innocence has been irreversibly made more threatening by the “thorns” and “poison” of Clara’s confession. What’s more interesting still is that after this, Johnny goes on to ascribe short, fictitious stories of sexual violence to his friend Lude’s sexual partners in a list titled “Lude’s List Revisited” (Danielewski 264). Clara English’s confession is the only non-disputed instance of sexual violence in the novel, but Johnny feels justified in creating these stories because he sees Clara as proof that anyone could have a similar past that they hide or repress since sex is no longer strictly inherently good in his mind. In the order that House of Leaves is written, Johnny’s revelation coincides with his increasing fascination with the mystery of the house on Ash Tree Lane and his disengagement from reality. Johnny would only explain the Clara English situation and its effects at this point if he felt a relevant connection between it and the existence of the house’s anomaly, thereby emphasizing yet again the intimate nature of the home and the inherently sexual violation felt when the home is made unknown (when it becomes uncanny).

Danielewski claims his own childhood was traumatic, and though this does not necessarily mean that he has personal connections to rape or other forms of sexual violence, it does explain why viewing the home and sex as equally intimate, and their violations equally disturbing, is so important to consider when analyzing House of Leaves. He describes his childhood home as having held “many very painful and dangerous resonances” and shadows that are “impossible to light and very, very deep (“Haunted House” 115). He also claims that every detail of the novel was intentional and that he has expected every analysis thus far, and that women hugely impacted both his life and his novel (“Haunted House” 106, 111). Thus, given his statement that homes resonate the emotions of its inhabitants, that nothing in the novel was an accident, and that women heavily influenced the novel, it is impossible to ignore the theme of sexual violence any longer, lest readers don’t care to acknowledge and understand a glaring element to the labyrinthine novel. Like “Lude’s List Revisited,” it turns out that the Ash Tree Lane house never actually existed, nor did any such “spatial rapes” actually occur. But also like Lude’s revised list, the matter of truth is irrelevant, because “no one-is ever presented with the sacred truth, in books or in life” (“Haunted House” 121). Whether or not the violation of the home or the body actually happened, their possibility of existence and how intimately, sexually disturbing and uncanny that feels is the only thing that matters.

 

Works Cited

“A Conversation with Mark Z. Danielewski.” Interview by Sophie Cottrell. Random House, https://www.randomhouse.com/boldtype/0400/danielewski/interview.html

Danielewski, Mark Z. House of Leaves. New York: Pantheon, 2000. Print.

“Haunted House-An Interview with Mark Z. Danielewski.” Interview by Larry McCaffrey and Sinda Gregory. Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction, 44:2 26 Mar. 2010: 99-135.

Frankenstein & Fate

 

The thoughts, actions, and feelings of characters in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein beg the question of how fate impacts the blame that can be placed on people for their actions. Victor Frankenstein, for example, claims his creating the monster was forced by something beyond his control, and his creation claims that his own behavior couldn’t be helped. However, their interactions with other characters and their opinions of themselves suggests that the monster was more of a blank slate than Frankenstein, and therefore is less to blame since he was simply a product of his environment and a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.

By the end of the story, Frankenstein has nearly chased the monster to the North Pole with the intent of destroying him, as the monster destroyed Frankenstein’s friends and family. Weakened by the cold and his long journey, Victor is spotted by a Captain Walton and his crew and is taken aboard, where he tells them of his tragic tale. This actually happens at the beginning of the novel, though it’s at the end of Frankenstein’s life and story. After he recounts his tragedy to Walton, he dies. As Walton is in another room writing to his sister, he hears something in the room where Frankenstein’s corpse is, and walks in to find the monster hovering over the body, lamenting his creator’s death. Walton is torn between feeling pity and contempt for the tragic, murderous half-man, and in response the creature begins a monologue that will serve as the end of the novel and the last impression left on both Walton and the novel’s readers. As such, it seems fitting that his words can be and should be taken to be of greater truth and weight than much of the dialogue throughout the novel, and thus we can accept the monster’s woes and feel satisfied in pitying him.Frankenstein argues that his creating the monster was compelled by some force beyond his control, but the way he responded to his creation for which he was responsible was inarguably his choice. He chose to immediately reject his creation and condemn him to life a loneliness and hatred, which in turn caused the monster to fulfill what he would begin to view as his “work” and the “series of [his] being” (Shelley 198). Frankenstein essentially told his creation that he was a monster, and so he became a monster, killing Frankenstein’s brother William, his best friend Henry, and his wife Elizabeth. Though the creature was responsible for these deaths, Victor seems ultimately to blame, as the “curious and unhallowed wretch” that chose to play god while not responsible or compassionate enough to handle that power (Shelley 198).

In the end, both Frankenstein and the monster choose isolation in the north, where they both die. The “northern extremity of the globe,” desolate and harsh, seems a proper place to end the lives of two miserably lonely individuals (Shelley 198). The north contrasts heavily to other experiences with nature that they have had, where the “cheering warmth of summer”,  “the rustling of the leaves,” and “the warbling of the birds” served to calm and comfort the monster upon his first exploration of the world (Shelley 199). Their lives and tragedies were quite different in that Victor chose his years of loneliness; he had family, friends, and love abound both at home in Geneva and at the University of Ingolstadt, but he rejected them in pursuit of that which defied nature. When his monster came to life, he rejected him too and cast him to a life of misery, which is ultimately the crux of the entire tragedy. After the death of the monster’s source of both his life and purpose, he admits that he feels “polluted by crimes and torn by the bitterest remorse” for his sins and seeks solace and redemption in death (Shelley 198). He hopes that his and Frankenstein’s deaths will allow the remembrance of them both to “speedily vanish,” so that no other will commit such atrocities; his suicide therefore makes him somewhat of a martyr, righting his unwilling wrongs before his death the best he can (Shelley 198). This contrasts to Victor’s death, who died reluctantly yet glad that he would no longer have to bear his responsibilities.

Near the end of his monologue, the creature recognizes Frankenstein’s suffering, but claims that “my agony was still superior to thine,” since he acted in such terrible ways because Frankenstein took away his only chance of acceptance and company, though he did not want to be a murderer (Shelley 199). “The bitter sting of remorse will not cease to rankle in [his] wounds” the creature claims, until “death shall close them forever” (Shelley 199). Through his death, the monster was satiating not only Frankenstein’s desire for his “extinction,” but also his own pains and “feelings unsatisfied, yet unquenched” (Shelley 198). Readers can’t help pity this pathetic outcast that knew nothing other than rejection, hatred, loneliness, and misery; at least Victor knew love, happiness, and acceptance for a good part of his life. Mary Shelley’s ending characterization of the monster and his woes allows us to recognize that he truly was a product of fate in a way that Frankenstein was not, because the monster was hated by everyone, including himself, and thus was forced to act as he knew.

Both Victor Frankenstein and his creation exemplify negative aspects of humanity: selfishness, a desire for power, an unquenchable longing for love, a need for revenge. The so-called monster, however, at least also shows deep remorse through his self-hated and subsequent suicide, shows an understanding of his misdeeds, and attempts to right his wrongs, even though he was a mere blank slate that had never been taught to act in any positive way. Rather, he was taught to hate and be violent, since he himself was hated and the victim of violence. He was the real product of fate, not Frankenstein, who made choice after choice to act with negligence. Frankenstein reached his potential, and his potential was brilliant but dark and filled with selfish motives. The creature, on the other hand, was never given such an opportunity to fulfill his potential, but in the end tried to do so by protecting future would-be creators of monsters from their ability. Yes, the monster is responsible for the deaths of three innocents since he was the one who committed the crimes; but, Victor Frankenstein is the one who must accept all the blame, because all misdeeds in the novel come back to him.

Third and Fourth Last Paragraphs of Frankenstein:

“Fear not that I shall be the instrument of future mischief. My work is nearly complete. Neither yours nor any man’s death is needed to consummate the series of my being and accomplish that which must be done, but it requires my own. Do not think that I shall be slow to perform this sacrifice. I shall quit your vessel on the ice raft which brought me thither and shall seek the most northern extremity of the globe; I shall collect my funeral pile and consume to ashes this miserable frame, that its remains may afford no light to any curious and unhallowed wretch who would create such another as I have been. I shall die. I shall no longer feel the agonies which now consume me or be the prey of feelings unsatisfied, yet unquenched. He is dead who called me into being; and when I shall be no more, the very remembrance of us both will speedily vanish. I shall no longer see the sun or stars or feel the winds play on my cheeks. Light, feeling, and sense will pass away; and in this condition must I find my happiness. Some years ago, when the images which this world affords first opened upon me, when I felt the cheering warmth of summer and heard the rustling of the leaves and the warbling of the birds, and these were all to me, I should have wept to die; now it is my only consolation. Polluted by crimes and torn by the bitterest remorse, where can I find rest but in death?

“Farewell! I leave you, and in you the last of humankind whom these eyes will ever behold. Farewell, Frankenstein! If thou wert yet alive and yet cherished a desire of revenge against me, it would be better satiated in my life than in my destruction. But it was not so; thou didst seek my extinction, that I might not cause greater wretchedness; and if yet, in some mode unknown to me, thou hadst not ceased to think and feel, thou wouldst not desire against me a vengeance greater than that which I feel. Blasted as thou wert, my agony was still superior to thine, for the bitter sting of remorse will not cease to rankle in my wounds until death shall close them for ever.”

Works Cited:

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Maurice Hindle. “Chapter 24.” Frankenstein, Or, The Modern Prometheus. London: Penguin, 2003. 198-99. Print.

“Let’s Talk About Sex[ual Violence], Baby”

Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves is full of evils: monsters, spaces that defy physics, paranoia, murder, suicide, addiction; but a theme that goes curiously unexplored in academic discussions regarding the beast of a novel is the inclusion of sexual violence.

What is even curiouser is that most of the examples of sexual violence are surrounded by discrepancies over whether or not they actually happened. For example: Johnny’s mother Pelafina attests that the staff of her mental health hospital are raping her; Karen Green’s estranged sister says that they both were raped by their step dad and put down a well; Johnny’s lover reveals that she was raped, but then takes it back and is angry that she said anything.

The most interesting examples, I think, are the ones that Johnny gives by ascribing false stories to the women of his friend Lude’s sexual conquests. Why this transition from lightheartedly and superficially toying with sex and romance, to viewing it as something possibly dark, disturbing, and wrong? Why are these anecdotes included, and how does it affect our psychological understanding of the characters, storyline, and house itself, if it should affect it at all?

On the most superficial level, it seems to be a parallel to the house. Our homes and our sexual experiences are supposed to be comforting, enjoyable, and generally positive. When these expectations are violated and transformed into something invasive, dark, wrong, and negative, it seems especially heinous and disturbs us at a deeper level.

The references to rape and other forms of sexual violence also accentuate the theme of repression in the novel, and the way the house feeds on the deep psyche of the people inside it. Freud’s theories regarding repression come into play here: Sexual violence in House of Leaves is perhaps the most poignant example of repression and resulting conditions, such has post traumatic stress disorder. Karen never even enters the labyrinth until the end–as a last resort to save Will–due to her intense claustrophobia, undoubtedly a result of being put down a well after being raped by her stepdad (if that really happened).

The labyrinths of the house are even described as a “spatial rape,” so it’s confusing to me that such a glaring aspect of the novel has been so thoroughly ignored.The most reasonable explanation I have is that it’s socially unacceptable to discuss uncomfortable sexual experiences and their effects on victims, so critics have easily ignored its inclusion in House of Leaves when there is such a ridiculous amount of other interesting themes and conundrums to discuss. It’s fairly easy to get around: Freud talks about repression? Let’s talk about Johnny! Karen has claustrophobia? Well at least she overcomes it! Johnny makes up stories for Lude’s partners? He’s crazy!

The fact is, though, that this is a hugely interesting aspect of the novel, and we shouldn’t ignore it. The references to sexual violence should be enhancing our understanding of the novel and the characters, because it’s the most disgusting, influential, and (arguably) important evil in the novel.

Walton as a Conduit

Robert Walton, the romantic 28 year old explorer through whom Mary Shelley’sFrankenstein is told, serves not only as the young Viktor Frankenstein’s audience for his tragic tale, but also as a parallel to Viktor. They are both in their twenties, desperately seeking adventure to give their life meaning, face repercussions for their fanciful minds, and are plagued by a sort of naive angst about themselves and the World. In Volume I, Letter I, Walton writes to his sister that his spirits have been dramatically lifted upon having a “steady purpose”: to sail to the North Pole, literally unexplored territory. Viktor, at this point in his life, has already fixed what would be the whole of his life’s focus on creating his infamous monster and bringing it to life, an undertaking even more grandiose than Walton’s. At the beginning of their undertakings, both characters were filled with ecstasy at the idea of fulfilling such a “favorite dream” of which they had read much about. Walton read feverishly  about “mathematics, the theory of medicine, and those branches of physical science from which a naval adventurer might derive the greatest practical advantage.” Frankenstein read about physics, alchemy, philosophy, chemistry, anatomy. As they progressed however, and as life-threatening obstacles became evident, both Walton and Frankenstein face disillusionment, which essentially destroys Frankenstein in the end. Once he created his monster, his life became a near endless series of tragedy and depression. They both posses brilliant, educated minds but they use their potential by playing dangerous games of life and death.

It gets interesting in that Walton, like Frankenstein, also resembles the creature in many aspects. Walton and the monster are both desperately lonely as well as being self-educated, and all three…”men”…actually have good intentions, or at least are not evil. They just are bad at acting out their intentions in a way that reflects who they want to be. In the end, Walton, Frankenstein, and the monster all end up in the arctic. Walton is near his dream, but hasn’t completed it, Frankenstein is chasing his mangled dream, and the monster’s dream of companionship is chasing after him with the intent of destroying him. The protagonist and the antagonist die, and all that’s left is Walton, the conduit of the story. Though the dying Viktor, still full of hubris, tells Walton not to give up on his dream, Walton is the only character to have enough instinct for self-preservation to save himself and his crew by turning away from the North Pole. Though he emerges seemingly defeated, “ignorant and disappointed,” Walton was the only one of the three men to learn his limits and to grow up some out of that selfish, naive angst that hindered them all. Walton was not the most important character, per se, but he is the one who readers are ultimately left with, and he is the one who we know made the more logical, less romantic choice.

Explanation Post: It Grows

In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Viktor Frankenstein becomes obsessed with the idea of life and death following the death of his mother, and it seems that her absence is what drives him to eventually create the infamous monster that will consume his every thought for the rest of his (short) life. He must have subconsciously thought that building this creature and bringing it to life would somehow satisfy the part of his brain that was traumatized by his mother’s death, and that gaining some control over death itself might heal his broken heart. In my poem It Grows, I tried to evoke some (very gruesome) imagery of the ideas of decay, and some sickly life growing out of it, as the monster did both figuratively—since his existence is due largely in part to Frankenstein’s mother’s nonexistence—and literally—since he is made out of body parts of men and animals. The seed in my poem is the monster, but it also is the monstrous part of Viktor that grew inside of him after his mother died. The poem is supposed to be from Frankenstein’s perspective, but it could be the innermost thoughts and emotions of any person plagued by the death of a loved one (primarily a mother figure). Viktor Frankenstein is a very dark and morbid individual, evident in his grotesque creation, and I think this poem illustrates that.

It Grows

You haunt me, mother.

I saw your corpse, lying there.

Unmoving.

Blood pooling.

Lips blue.

But,

This is not what haunts me.

The ghost that plagues my waking hours,

And stains my brain bright with blood,

Is the mere fact

That you are

Gone.

You

Left

Me.

And you are no longer my mother.

You are a corpse,

Rotting,

In a box,

Skin swollen, eyes sunken.

Your death bore a life in me,

A seed.

It drinks in your thick blood,

Night

And

Day.

And it grows.

And grows.

And it consumed your death

And it consumes my life.

And I am the seed now.

And the seed is made from your absence.

And it haunts me, mother.