Robert Bloch’s Psycho is a classic. It is, perhaps, one of the most well written novels about a psychopath with a twist that would surprise most readers if the novel and film adaptation weren’t so well known. Having previously read this novel, I was able to look deeper during this reading and study how Bloch managed to convince the reader that Norman and Norma Bates were two separate characters, despite Norma having been dead for twenty years in the novel. Considering my thesis novel for my MFA follows a serial killer, it’s interesting to see how I can take what I learned during my reading of Psycho, and use it to create my own psychopath.
Robert Bloch doesn’t necessarily lie to the reader to convince him or her that Norman’s mother is alive. Rather, he allows Norman to convince the reader through his psychosis. In fact, Bloch gives hints through the entire story that Norman and Norma are one in the same. For instance, Bloch hints that Mother is gone when Norman is searching for his mother after “she” killed Mary. He enters her room and finds that “nothing had changed in Mother’s room; nothing ever changed. But Mother was gone” (Bloch 52). The reader assumes that Mother is not in the room because she is somewhere else, but in reality she is gone from life entirely. This also shows how Norman subconsciously realizes that his mother is dead, but he convinces himself–or rather his reality is skewed in a way–that his mother is just somewhere else. Bloch effectively deceives the reader by presenting a character that is himself deceived. Furthermore, when Norman tell his mother that she would be in an asylum for the criminally insane without him, she says, “Yes, Norman, I suppose you’re right. That’s where I’d probably be. But I wouldn’t be there alone” (116). I found this an excellent hint at Norman’s character without giving up so much that the reader will figure out what is actually happening in the story at this point. And again, perhaps one of the biggest hints Bloch gives to the perceptive reader is when Norman speaks to his mother about Arbogast:
“Mother–if you just talked to him for a minute, told him you don’t know anything–he’d go away then.”
“But he’d come back. Forty thousand dollars, that’s a lot of money. Why didn’t you tell me about it?” (106).
With Mother having been in the house while Arbogast spoke to Norman, it is impossible for her to know about the forty thousand dollars at all. She asks why he didn’t tell her about it, but there’s no way she could have known he didn’t tell her unless they were the same person.
Norman realizes, at times, that he might be a little crazy and explicitly says so in the novel. For instance, he tells Mary, “I was worse than [mother] could ever be. I was ten times crazier, if that’s the word you want to use. . . . I think perhaps all of us go a little crazy at times” (36). Norman is even described as being, at times, “mature enough to understand that he might even be the victim of a mild form of schizophrenia, most likely some form of borderline neurosis” (93). Norman becomes an authentic character through this characterization. While the average person suffering from some sort of psychosis doesn’t realize that they are crazy, that doesn’t mean many of them don’t question they are. And with Norman’s quick dismissal, he becomes a true to life psychotic.
Although Psycho was first published in 1959 doesn’t mean it has aged so much that it can’t be learned from. The characters, for the most part, are convincing, and Norman is a fascinating character to study. If the twist wasn’t so ingrained into pop culture, it would still shock most readers. One of the most interesting techniques Bloch used for the novel was how he deceives the reader by showing a deceived character. The way Norman is written is so well done that the novel will continue to be long-lasting.