Two things influenced my reading of Psycho. First was the fact you can’t live in the world today and not know the key points to the Alfred Hitchcock movie. I’ve only watched the scene where Norman and Mary are talking and the room is full of his taxidermy work for a screenwriting class. But I still knew the story because it is ingrained in pop culture. The second is my reading of American Gothic I did for Non-Horror Reader Survey.
Overall, it the story was weak except for the glimpses we see of Norman’s psychosis. If you were to take the characters out besides him and replaced them with generic male and female characters of the late 1950′s. The story wouldn’t change much. What was interesting was the theme of progress through out the book. Now, I used progress instead of change for a good reason. Change would allow for a character to grow backwards in development. This never happens in the book. All the main characters start at a point and events in the story give them the possibility to grow, to evolve, to progress from there. Not much of that does happen–which is a common thread in the two Bloch novels I’ve read–and for more on that, I suggest taking a look at Chris Shearer’s post.
Starting right at the first chapter, we see Norman’s struggle with progress and stasis. Here he sits in a room that hasn’t changed, trying to improve himself through reading. While many will look at the book being about the Incas as away to introduce the voice of the dead as a foreshadowing of Norman’s mother, it is a book about the past that he relives vividly in his imagination. He is an element of the past and stasis whose influence expands even to the town of Fairvale.
Mary, when she comes in, is in a similar struggle. She is trying to escape the life she’s been in for the last nine years taking care of her family. And all the way up to the point that Norman’s influence starts, she begins to question whether this is the right thing to do. Once she reaches the motel and has dinner with Norman, that is when she decides to go back, to not progress. Because of that decision, Norman has to kill her because of her refusal of progress.
Sam is interesting because he gives the illusion of progression when really, his is just as stuck as Norman. He’s stuck in the back of his father’s shop, listening to classical music, never going out, creating relationships. He, like Norman, exist but don’t live. The only relationship he does have is Mary, but that happened away from Fairvale and never went further. Fairvale itself, is portrayed as never really changing, even with the new highway that came in. As the events of the book unfold, he is the one always urging to stay in place, not to rock the boat, not to be impetuous. The only thing that saved Sam’s life from Norman was that he accepted to progress on to the hotel with Lily. That choice too away the power of stasis that Norman controls. This is also the ultimate let down of the book, because that choice is not followed through at the resolution of the book.
Lily is the polar opposite to Norman as an element of progress. When we first meet here is when Sam mistakes her for Mary. From that kiss to her last scene with Sam, we watch Sam start to progress on to Lily as a relationship. She’s written as anxious and impatient, but curious and wondering. We constantly get her reactions to the small town that runs the same way on yesterday as it did three years ago. While she has knowledge of the past (i.e. naming the classical music and knowing the books on Norman’s selves) she isn’t tethered to them like Sam and Norman. It is only because of Lilly that the story progresses and why Norman is caught. It is also why Lily can end up with Sam, because her life is already to far along compared to him, especially since he ultimately doesn’t keep progressing.
We, as people, have a deep connection to the past. We wouldn’t have the word nostalgia if we were always looking to the future. We wouldn’t have pop culture trends repeat themselves in a cyclical pattern. While the story, on the surface, is lack luster, the theme of progress and the traps of stasis and the past are well-played out and thought-provoking.