American Psycho | Study Guide

Bret Easton Ellis

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American Psycho | Summary

See Plot Diagram


Living the Wall Street Life

The novel opens in a cab in New York City's financial district in the late 1980s. Patrick Bateman, the novel's narrator, is riding in a cab with Timothy Price, a colleague from the Wall Street firm where they both work, Pierce & Pierce. The cab ride ends at the home of Evelyn Richards, Bateman's girlfriend, who has invited a group of friends for dinner. Through the conversation in the cab and at the dinner party, a picture of a privileged and materialistic lifestyle emerges. Bateman and his friends talk disparagingly about homeless people they see on the street and gossip about their mutual acquaintances. They also speak openly about the lengths they go to in order to look good, such as taking steroids, working out, and using tanning beds.

As the novel progresses, more details of Bateman's daily life are revealed. He describes his morning grooming ritual, which is extensive, at great length, including brand names of products and their exact use. He often includes comments about how expensive or exclusive the products are. The same level of detail is given to the luxurious and expensive furnishings, electronics, food, and drink with which he surrounds himself. Regular visits to the health club, masseuse, nail care technicians, and skin care technician develop this picture of self-absorption and excess.

The social lives of Bateman and his peers are similarly materialistic and consumed with brand names and current trends. Their conversation frequently involves the intricacies of fashion—a topic on which Bateman is an expert. In his narration Bateman introduces new characters by describing their clothing and accessories in exhaustive detail. He refers frequently to Zagat's guide to find the best restaurants and clubs. He meets friends for drinks, dinners, and lunches at the most exclusive places. He uses his platinum American Express card frequently and takes special pride in showing it off as a badge of rank. At clubs and elsewhere, Bateman and his friends drink excessively and regularly use cocaine and other drugs.

Not All Fun and Games

There's a darker side to Bateman. He regularly uses pornography—including porn with violence and death as main themes. He fantasizes about killing and butchering people, especially women and, sometimes, homeless people. The details of these darker urges begin to emerge as Bateman nonchalantly slips them into his stream-of-consciousness narration and even into his dialogue. However, none of the other characters ever seem to quite hear his violent comments, or they dismiss them as joking. He relays his violent fantasies and later his violent actions in the same careful detail as his workout regimen, fashion choices, and morning grooming. He regularly takes women home or hires prostitutes and then gives them drugs and has sex with them, often quite violently.

Out of Control

These violent episodes intensify as Bateman seems less and less in control of his actions. He is frequently hungover from late nights drinking and doing cocaine. He often zones out into violent fantasies and hallucinations during his daily activities. He works out more and more obsessively.

Among Bateman's victims is Paul Owen, another colleague. Owen is in charge of the Fisher account at work, which Bateman is obsessed with. Bateman gets rid of Owen's body and covers up the disappearance by making it look as if Owen has just gone to London for an unannounced vacation. A private detective looking into Owen's disappearance comes to Bateman's office to ask questions. Bateman tells him a string of lies that make little sense but that the detective seems to accept.

The torture, rape, and murder continue. Bateman kills women in Owen's apartment and leaves their bodies there. Although most of the violence takes place in private, Bateman occasionally performs his violent acts in public places. At one point he shoots a street busker and then other people who are in his way as the police chase him through the streets. After this, Bateman is shaken and calls his lawyer to confess his many murders. Yet nothing seems to come of his confession. Bateman returns to Owen's apartment, only to be surprised to find no bodies there. Instead, a realtor is in the middle of showing the immaculate apartment.

Questions Remain

Weeks after this jarring experience, Bateman runs into his lawyer at a club and brings up the confession he left on the lawyer's voice mail. His lawyer tells him it is impossible that Bateman killed anyone, least of all Owen. The lawyer recently had dinner with Owen. Still spinning out of control, Bateman attempts to return to his routine. The novel ends, leaving it unclear what the future holds and how much, if any, of the violence described in it was real.

American Psycho Plot Diagram

Falling ActionRising ActionResolutionClimax123456789101112Introduction


1 At Evelyn's house, Bateman attends a dinner party.

Rising Action

2 Bateman stabs a homeless man and breaks his dog's legs.

3 Bateman attempts to kill Luis Carruthers.

4 Bateman hires prostitutes, whom he injures severely.

5 Bateman brutally kills Paul Owen with an ax.

6 Bateman kills and partially eats ex-girlfriend Bethany.

7 Bateman breaks up with Evelyn.

8 As police chase him, Bateman shoots several people.


9 To his lawyer, Bateman confesses his many crimes.

Falling Action

10 Some evidence suggests Paul Owen is still alive.

11 Bateman's lawyer thinks his confession was a joke.


12 Bateman goes out for drinks with friends.

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