American Psycho And The Grapes Of Wrath English Literature Essay

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The beginning of Bret Easton Elliss American Psycho draws us slowly into the seemingly ordinary life of Patrick Bateman, a successful, handsome intelligent, Wall-Street trader who enjoys recreational past-times such as, discussing what to wear, spending time with his girlfriend Evelyn and one of his fellow traders' girlfriend, Courtney. Aside from this he also enjoys killing people. This gives us a 'head-on collision with America's greatest dream - and its worst nightmare- ..... a world we all know and recognise but one we do not wish to confront.'John Steinbeck's 'The Grapes of Wrath' sets a scene typical of that of the rural parts of the U.S during the Great Depression (1930's) 'Men stood by their fences and looked at the ruined corn, drying fast now, only a little green showing through the film of dust' (pg 5) We follow the Joad family who are forced to seek manual labour as their farmland is repossessed by the state after the great dustbowl destroys it. The family's 'American Dream' is to live peacefully together earning enough money to survive the depression.

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During the 1980's in the city, America was the place to achieve the 'perfect life' or the 'American Dream', which included having a well paid job, going out with friends and enjoying life however one saw fit. Bret Easton Ellis however describes to us what those people who live the dream think and feel towards the rest of society. 'I'm resourceful.... I'm creative, I'm young, unscrupulous, highly motivated, highly skilled.... society cannot afford to lose me.' The hubris of Tim Price, one of Patrick Bateman's colleagues, is described in the opening lines of 'American Psycho', which is amplified by anaphora, of I, and asyndeton. This introduces us to the world of the rich and arrogant who seem supercilious and emotionless. This also parallels with Tom Buchanan in 'The Great Gatsby' as 'just because I'm stronger and more of a man than you are.' (pg 12) Similarly Tom also lives in a world, where only people with money matter. However unlike Ellis, Fitzgerald does not use the same harsh, coarse language 'I mean the fact remains that no-one gives a shit about their work,' Ellis can relate to the views of the upper class as he himself lived in a rich Californian household. Ellis had a confrontational relationship with his father who was allegedly abusive towards him, and so his father became the basis of Bateman in 'American Psycho'. In contrast Steinbeck came from a middle-class, agricultural family, and was also raised in California, but in the more rural regions. In the summer he used to help out at nearby ranches where he learnt the 'harsher aspects of migrant life and the darker side of human nature' [2] . The 'American Dream' was also known to those who lived outside the city in the rural areas of America during the 1920's, after America had helped to win the First World War for the Allies. During this time there was a boom in the American economy that gave more people an opportunity to achieve the 'American Dream'. Even so, the boom was short-lived as the Wall-Street crash, in 1929 caused the economy to collapse. At the same time a dust bowl hit American states such as Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma.

'Listen to the motor. Listen to the wheels. Listen with your ears and with your hands on the steering wheel; listen with the palm of your hand on the gear-shift lever; listen with your feet on the floor boards. Listen to the pounding old jalopy with all your senses, for a change of tone, a variation of rhythm'

Steinbeck uses repetition and caesura to create a surreal atmosphere within the language to emphasise the desperate times of the Dust Bowl era. From these descriptions, we are given a profound engagement of the path that the Joad family takes. Both disasters cause the 'American Dream' to be viewed differently by all classes of people in America. After the dust bowl however, the land is taken over by the state 'bank', that adds to the suffering of the farmers and land owners. This undermined their confidence and their respect towards the government. 'The iron guard bit into the house-corner, crumbled the wall, and wrenched the little house from its foundations.... the tractor cut a straight line on'. (pg 41) Critically, 'The Grapes of Wrath' was commended by most for its sympathy towards unions, even so, it initially caused 'political controversy due to its castigation of agribusiness and the governmental system that contributed to the Dust Bowl predicament.' [3] The working class characters including the Joad family feel contemptuous towards the government who are capitalist intruders of the land. Similarly Tennessee Williams' 'A Streetcar Named Desire', corresponds with the idea of an intruder of socially 'higher class', Blanche, entering a working class society and disrupting it, thereby upsetting Stella and Stanley's dream of a family.

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Viewing both novels through a Marxist lens also presents to us how the protagonists live their life and view the world. Bateman has to be regarded as a corrupted consumer who feeds his blood lust by killing the 'genetic underclass' of the novel such as the beggars and prostitutes whilst hiding behind a curtain of money. However it is the 'proletariats' or workers, who in 'American Psycho' are the taxi drivers, cleaners and waiters that see him for what he really is. Bateman's 'American Dream', earning large sums of money and spending it on material goods and punishing the 'underclass', deteriorates towards the end of the novel, which is shown as a taxi driver, who recognises him from witnessing Bateman killing a fellow taxi driver, confronts him and removes all of his 'material goods' from him, '"The watch". I unhook the Rolex and, sliding it off my wrist, hand it to him'. Bateman yields to the taxi driver which demonstrates an extreme shift in power dynamics where it is the 'workers' that are in control. It is also important to notice during this confrontation that Bateman threatens the cab driver, 'you're a dead man Abdullah' to which the cabby replies ' Yeah? and you're a yuppie scumbag. Which is worse?' this suggests that the 'American Dream' in the eyes of Patrick Bateman is much worse than dying as a poor and honest man. Steinbeck however, conveys to us how those in power are making the poor and weak suffer.

'The great companies did not know that the line between hunger and anger is a thin line. And money that might of gone to wages went to gas, for guns, for agents and spies, for blacklists and drilling. On the highways the people moved like ants and searched for work, for food. And the anger began to ferment'.

The use of asyndeton to emphasise the lack of money being given to the workers, and the animalistic imagery of 'people moved like ants' effectively describes how Steinbeck feels towards the working class and how their 'Dream' is to be able to feed their families and themselves and surviving for the next day, which contrasts to designer clothes and drugs in 'American Psycho'. The hatred towards the capitalists which include the 'great' companies and the government, is due to the unfair treatment of the workers who cannot achieve their 'Dream'. From a Marxist point of view 'The Grapes of Wrath' demonstrates the greed and selfishness of the government who do not seem to care for the people they are exploiting, 'A person is exploited if he or she performs more labour than necessary to produce the goods that he consumes; likewise, a person is an exploiter if he or she performs less labour than is necessary to produce the goods that he consumes'. [4] Clearly, a point has been reached in which the 'producers' feel that it is time to act and gain back their homes and land that have been stolen. 'I don't aim to starve to death before I kill the man that's starving me.' 'The Grapes of Wrath' also emulates the hostility of the environment and how families like the Joad's suffered. 'the air and the sky darkened and through them the sun shone redly, and there was a raw sting in the air'. (pg 4) Steinbeck effectively uses colour imagery and harsh sounding metaphors to describe the setting, where 'raw sting' and the red sun emphasise the pain and suffering of the people.

As mentioned before the 'American Dream' is an ambiguous ideal, that cannot have a single definition and spans across many areas of the human emotions such as greed and love. Women are seen by the rich in 'American Psycho' as toys or commodities where all women with 'good personalities who are smart or maybe funny or halfway intelligent or talented....are ugly, and this is because they have to make up for how unattractive they are.' This obviously shows women are not seen for who they are or what values they possess but how attractive they are and how easily they can be exploited. However the violence towards women in 'American Psycho', which is extremely graphic, was the centre of much controversy especially with feminist critics such as Gloria Steinem as they believed this violence towards women encourages misogyny. I disagree with Steinem as I believe Ellis is simply stating his views on the reality of an anti-feminist, and contemporary pseudo culture. 'American Psycho' does not condone the graphic and sexually violent actions of Patrick Bateman but must be seen as a hyperbolic, allegorical expression of the part of society that accept this behaviour. Ellis himself believes that the novel 'to be a satire of a certain strand of American society, male and consumerist, which leads people to murder women, literally or figuratively' [5] . The idea that women are a socially 'lower' than men is also seemingly paralleled in 'The Great Gatsby'. Daisy, in the opening chapter mentions her daughter, 'I hope she'll be a fool ... a beautiful little fool.' and when the nurse told her it was a girl she 'turned [her] head and wept', which suggests that girls might not have the same 'privileges' as boys. Tom also patrionises Daisy 'The trouble is that sometimes she gets foolish ideas in her head and doesn't know what she's doing', again showing how low women are in the social hierarchy, and perhaps alluding to women acting like a child or pet.

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The insect imagery used in 'The Grapes of Wrath' is obviously used to demonstrate the suffering of the farmers at this time. During the second chapter Steinbeck uses insects to echo the eighth of the 'Ten Plagues of Egypt' in the Book of Exodus. This plague caused a swarm of locusts to destroy all the Egyptians' crops. The crops in America where also destroyed by insects in July 1931, 'The July 1931 swarm was said to be so thick that it blocked out the sun and one could shovel the grasshoppers with a scoop. Cornstalks were eaten to the ground and fields left completely bare.' [6] , we also notice how easy it is for humans to kill insects. This is importantly seen when Tom hitches a ride with a truck driver, and a grasshopper flips onto the instrument panel, 'Joad reached forward and crushed its hard skull-like head with his fingers, and he let it into the wind stream out the window' (pg 14). When Tom crushes the grasshopper, we begin to see a parallel between humans treatment of insects and the unjustified way landowners treat tenant farmers.

Throughout 'The Grapes of Wrath' male dominance seems to be diminishing. When the dustbowl strikes it effects everyone, but importantly the men are the ones who are mentioned and suffer. 'Quote'. However the usually quiet and female characters seem like the strongest characters of the novel, especially Ma as she leads the family and inspires hope in them, hope that they will find their dream.

'Why Tom, us people will go on livin' when all them people is gone…. Why Tom, we're the people that live. They ain't gonna wipe us out… We're the people, we go on.'

Another character who at first seems quiet and detached from most discussions is Al 'This was Al's first participation in the conference. Always he had stood behind with the women before.' Importantly after Al's opinion, the men are shown to be losing power and the once nonchalant characters, are now beginning to establish authority at this desperate time 'Grampa was still the titular head. But now he no longer ruled'. Ma is the greatest support for the family and Steinbeck presents this by describing her as 'Her hazel eyes seemed to have experienced all possible tragedy and to have mounted pain and suffering like steps into a high calm and super human understanding' (pg 100). It is not often that a female figure takes the place of a male leader, in this instance Ma takes Pa's place and tells him angrily, "You ain't got the right to get discouraged. This here family's goin' under. You just ain't got the right." (page 451). Therefore Ma Joad becomes the matriarch of the family. Ma is the voice of courage, wisdom and comfort and it is only because of this, that the Joad family finally reach their 'American Dream'.

From the beginning of 'American Psycho', Ellis portrays Patrick Bateman as a desensitised, materialistic, vain, murderer. However as we progress through the novel Bateman seems an, unreliable narrator. It is crucial to notice that the lines at the end of many of the chapters leave us as the reader to imagine what Bateman does for the rest of the day or night. The main hint that Bateman is unreliable is demonstrated towards the end of the novel when he describes his escape from the police, which seems 'movie-like' and unrealistic. The film adaptation shows this fantastical scene as he, obeys a cash machine that tells him to 'feed [it] a cat', he blows up two police cars with a revolver and hides from a helicopter that circles his office. Bateman finally phones his lawyer, Harold, and confesses to all the murders and crimes he has committed with exaggeration and hilarity

'I killed another girl with a chainsaw, I had to, she almost got away ... I guess I've killed maybe 20 people, maybe 40 ... I even, um I ate some of their brains, and I tried to cook a little.'

Ellis uses hyperbole and short sentences in Bateman's confession is used for comic effect and indicates that he has lost his own 'sanity'. This correlates with the previous actions that take place within the chapter. However his lawyer tells him the next day that it is not possible that Bateman killed his colleague Paul Owen as he, Harold, 'just had dinner with [him] in London', appears to show that everything was in Patrick's head. The technique of using an unreliable narrator is also used by Fitzgerald in 'The Great Gatsby'. Nick, the narrator of the novel, is not the protagonist but a secondary character who recounts his meetings with Gatsby and his cousin Daisy. Nick relies on many outside sources to shed light on the relationships or actions of a particular person or group and is not hesitant to quote others. For example he quotes Jordan Baker (chap.4 p80). The problem is that she is said to be a liar so how bias or unreliable is she. Nick also reconstructs situations that are a collage of peoples' thoughts and views. Using an unreliable narrator in 'The Great Gatsby' conveys a sense of mystery around Gatsby who is still indiscernible and unfathomable. Similarly Bateman, the unreliable narrator, in 'American Psycho' also leaves us wondering and speculating about the murders he committed. The 'American Dream' may also be seen as an ideal that is also ambiguous and varies amongst classes and personalities.

Steinbeck's views and opinions are apparent and are expressed multiple times in 'The Grapes of Wrath'. He creates a family on the verge of losing all hope, and always places the state responsible for the predicament of the Joad's and many others who were affected in the same way. There is never one type of narrator in 'The Grapes of Wrath'. When we are reading about the Joad's and their situation, the narrator is, omniscient and all-seeing. Steinbeck allows us to view the minds of each character, knowing their immediate thoughts and fears. However, Between the chapters about the Joad's, are chapters that describe the history of the Dust Bowl and of the immigration in California. From time to time the narrator will address us, the reader as 'you.' For example "For the quality of owning freezes you forever into 'I,' and cuts you off forever from the 'we'' (pg158). We hear the voice of the car salesman, 'All right, Joe. You soften 'em up an' shoot 'em in here. I'll close 'em, I'll deal 'em or I'll kill 'em. Don't send in no bums. I want deals' (pg66). By using multiple narrators Steinbeck allows us to connect with the migrant workers that were struggling to find jobs during the late 1930s. Steinbeck voices his opinions in the chapters that the Joad's do not feature.

'If you who own the things people must have could understand this, you might preserve yourself. If you could separate causes from results, if you could know that Paine, Marx, Jefferson, Lenin, were results, not causes, you might survive. But that you cannot know.'

In contrast to 'American Psycho' the hate shown by Steinbeck is against the 'bank monsters' and capitalists, whereas Bateman's hatred is towards the homeless and poor. In this moment, Steinbeck's emotional nature emerges as he challenges an overseeing power, to change the way that workers are treated and manipulated, to create a universal 'American Dream' that is reachable by anyone no matter what colour or class they are. Martin Luther King Jr. also believed that all people should have an equal chance of being successful, achieving aspirations and living a free life, 'Discrimination is a hellhound that gnaws at Negroes in every waking moment of their lives to remind them that the lie of their inferiority is accepted as truth in the society dominating them.'

'My pain is constant and sharp and I do not hope for a better world for anyone, in fact I want my pain to be inflicted on others. I want no one to escape, but even after admitting this there is no catharsis, my punishment continues to elude me and I gain no deeper knowledge of myself; no new knowledge can be extracted from my telling. This confession has meant nothing.'

The end of the film adaptation of 'American Psycho' is similar to the ending of the novel, 'THIS IS NOT AN EXIT'. Both explain how the life of Patrick Bateman will not change and instead of feeling remorse or regret for the actions he has performed, he still ends with nothing 'internally', he is just an empty shell that has money, a job and expensive material goods but no potential to help others, no emotions to show except hate and anger, Bateman's vision of an 'American Dream' is death, disorder and destruction, Martin Luther King Jn. states that 'Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.' Seeing as Bateman has no room for love his hate will never be purged from him. In 'The Grapes of Wrath', the Joad's face the harshest of environments relying on each other especially Ma whose overwhelming confidence and wisdom encourage them to fight and persevere. Steinbeck includes the gruesome details of the story to allow us to appreciate and recognise the strength and spirit that the Joad's possess to reach their dream, their 'American Dream', to be able to live in peace together as a family.