Psycho (novel)

Psycho (novel)

infobox Book |
name = Psycho
title_orig =
translator =

image_caption = First edition cover
author = Robert Bloch
cover_artist = Tony Palladino
country = United States
language = English
series =
genre = Thriller
publisher = Simon & Schuster
release_date = 1959
media_type = Print (Hardback & Paperback)
pages =
isbn = NA
preceded_by =
followed_by = Psycho II, Psycho House

"Psycho" is a 1959 pulp thriller by Robert Bloch.

Plot summary

The story is divided (below, but not in the actual book) into several sections, by the character whose point of view is mostly followed in that chapter. This is purely for simplicity's sake (as other characters' POVs are also found in the same chapters). It basically follows the main narrative of one character up until their death, when the spotlight moves to the next soon-to-be victim.

Mary (chapters 1-4)

The novel begins when one of the main characters, Mary Crane, embezzles $40,000 from her employer and leaves town so she can marry her boyfriend, Sam Loomis. On the way to Loomis' house, she is forced to stop at the dilapidated Bates Motel, on the side of the highway. The owner is Norman Bates, a middle-aged alcoholic whose pastime is taxidermy. He is attracted to her, and offers to have her up to the house for dinner. Mary gives him a fake name when she signs the registry.

Bates and Mary make small talk, and he mentions that his mother wasn't happy about him "seeing" Mary. He admits that she became "ill" after his father died and worsened after a man she had been seeing died as well. When Mary suggests that she be "put somewhere", however, Bates bursts out into semihysterics. "A boy's best friend is his mother," he insists.

Afterwards, Mary readies herself for a shower (while Bates watches through a peephole) and decides to give the money back before she ends up like Bates. While she is in the shower, however, an old woman surprises her with a butcher knife, and "cut [s] off both her scream… [a] nd her head."

Norman (chapter 5)

Shortly before Mary is killed, Mother rants at Bates for daring to bring a woman into her house, threatening to "kill the bitch." Norman gets drunk in an attempt to drown her out, and slips into unconsciousness. Bates enters Mary's room after he comes to his senses, and, finding her dead, cleans up after Mother. He pushes Mary's car along with her body (and the $40,000, of which he is ignorant) into a nearby swamp. He falls asleep and dreams that Mother is sinking in quicksand, only to turn into "him" as she screams for help. When he awakes, Mother has returned, and he decides to keep her crime a secret, realizing that she is all he has.

Arbogast (chapters 6-10)

The bank owner gets suspicious, as does Mary's sister, Lila, who goes to find Loomis. They are joined by an insurance detective, Arbogast, who's investigating the $40,000 claim.

He goes out to look for Mary, and gets to the motel. He interviews Bates, who clumsily tries to hide that Mary had been there, and refuses to let him see Mother. Arbogast deduces that Mary had been in Room #6 from Bates' uneasiness when questioned about it, and calls Loomis to inform him of his suspicions, and that he is going to talk to Mrs. Bates. He enters the house, and is met by Mother at the door — with a straight razor. After Bates cleans "that" up, he carries Mother into the fruit cellar despite her protests, telling her that it's "for her own good."

Loomis & Lila (chapters 11-16)

Loomis and Lila, "en route" to the motel, ask the local sheriff about Bates and his mysterious Mother. They find out that his mother, Norma, committed suicide with her lover, Joe Considine, some years ago, and that it was very hard for Norman to handle; he had to be put briefly in a mental institution, "to keep him from doing something unreasonable."

They then go to the motel and sneak into Mary's room. In the bathroom, they discover Mary's earring, along with dried blood, near the shower. Bates is listening at the peephole, and hurries to get rid of them. While talking to Loomis, Lila has gone up to the house. Bates knocks out Sam, and rushes up to the house.

Lila goes up to Mrs. Bates' room, which, in contrast to the shambolic state of the rest of the house, is in pristine order, as if it hasn't been altered in years. In Norman's room, she discovers several tomes on arcane subjects: P.D. Ouspensky's "A New Model of the Universe" and "The Extension of Consciousness", Margaret Alice Murray's "The Witch-Cult in Western Europe" and "Dimension and Being"; and translations of Joris-Karl Huysmans's "Là Bas" and the Marquis de Sade's "Juliette". She also finds pornographic magazines under his bed.

She then goes into the fruit cellar, where she sees the back of what seems to be an old woman by the furnace; she calls to the figure and touches its shoulder. It swings around, revealing a mummified corpse. As she stares on in horror, a falsetto voice from behind her cries "I'm" Norma Bates!" Turning, Lila sees a figure in a silk dress, with makeup clumsily splotched on the face and hair askew. In the upraised hand of the attacker is a giant knife. Just then, Loomis throws himself on the figure. The attacker's hair (a wig) flies off, revealing Norman Bates.

Dr. Steiner (chapter 16)

Lila and Loomis return, with Bates in tow, to the authorities, who dredge the swamp and incarcerate Bates. Suddenly, everyone in town is remembering incidents when they had "noticed something funny about the way he acted"; and others have "seen him around that motel of his", and had always "suspected" him. The motel is immediately shut down, and Bates is accused of committing such fantastic horrors as cannibalism, Satanism, incest, and necrophilia (all of which are viable and in "some" cases, highly probable.)

A psychologist, Dr. Nicholas Steiner, analyzes Bates and discovers that he became a transvestite after suffering intense emotional trauma from his mother, a "clinging, demanding woman" who had forbade him to have a life away from her. When she began a relationship with Joe Considine, Bates became insanely jealous. After walking in on them having sex, he snapped and poisoned them both with strychnine. In order to allay suspicion, Bates wrote a suicide note saying that Norma was pregnant and that Considine was actually married to someone else on the other coast. While writing the note, he began to regret his actions — he wanted Mother back. So, as Dr. Steiner puts it,

:"Apparently, now that it was all over, he couldn't stand the loss of his mother. He wanted her back. As he wrote the note in her handwriting, addressed to himself, he literally "changed" his mind. And Norman, or part of him, "became" his mother."

Bates then dug up and mummified Mother, and began to pretend he was her, to bring her back to life. He wore her clothes, spoke in her voice, and did everything as she did — especially berating "Norman" for desiring women.

Bates is found insane, so he is spared a trial and put in an asylum. Lila concludes sadly that "I can't even hate Bates for what he did. He must have suffered more than any of us. In a way I can almost understand. We're all not quite as sane as we pretend to be." She then returns home with Loomis.

Norman (chapter 17)

:"The real end came quietly."

The story ends with Bates, sitting alone in the padded cell where he's been confined. Just as Steiner said, Norma has completely taken over, and she tells Norman that:

:"It is sad when a mother has to speak the words that condemn her own son. I can't allow them to think I would commit murder. Put him away now as I should have years ago. He was always bad and in the end he intended to tell them I killed those girls and that man, as if I could do anything but just sit and stare like one of his stuffed birds. They know I can't move a finger, and I won't. I'll just sit here and be quiet, just in case they do suspect me. They're probably watching me. Well, let them. Let them see what kind of a person I am. I'm not even going to swat that fly. I hope they are watching... they'll see. They'll see and they'll know, and they'll say, 'Why, she wouldn't even harm a fly...'."

Allusions/references to actual history, geography and current science

In November 1957 — two years before "Psycho" was first published — serial killer Ed Gein was arrested in his hometown of Plainfield, Wisconsin for the murders of two women. When police searched his home, they found furniture, silverware, and even clothing made of human skin and body parts. Psychiatrists examining him theorized that he was trying to make a "woman suit" to wear so he could pretend to be his dead mother, whom neighbors described as a puritan who dominated her son.

At the time of Gein's arrest, Bloch was living convert|35|mi|km away from Plainfield in Weyauwega. Familiar with the Gein case but not the specific details, Bloch began writing with "the notion that the man next door may be a monster unsuspected even in the gossip-ridden microcosm of small-town life." Bloch was surprised years later when he "discovered how closely the imaginary character I'd created resembled the real Ed Gein both in overt act and apparent motivation." [ [ "Behind the Bates Motel" by Paula Guran] ]

Others comment that Bloch most likely based the characters on Calvin Beck and his "magna mater", a fellow science fiction writer with a mother eerily similar to Norma Bates. Tom Weaver's essays, [ Norman, Is That You?] and [ "Psycho" Genesis] , elaborate on the subject of Bloch's inspiration.

Gein later inspired several other cinematic murderers, such as Leatherface ("The Texas Chainsaw Massacre") and Buffalo Bill ("The Silence of the Lambs"). It is not clear whether Gein inspired these later characters directly, or if his legacy was further distorted from the screen version of Bloch's novel.

Film, television and theatrical adaptations




Bloch later wrote two sequels, "Psycho II" and "Psycho House". Neither were related to the film sequels. In the novel "Psycho II", Norman escapes the asylum disguised as a nun and makes his way to Hollywood, as the world appears to have gone crazier than him. Universal Pictures allegedly did not want to film it because of its social commentary of splatter films. In the novel "Psycho House", murders begin again when the Bates Motel is reopened as a tourist attraction.


In an interview, Bloch mentioned that someone had once proposed the concept of "Psycho" becoming a musical, on Broadway. No one was willing to fund it, although Bloch said, "The score had already been set, and there were some great tunes to sing in the shower."

Fear Factor

A specialized theme show of the reality show "Fear Factor" in 2006 had contestants living through the "horrors" at the Bates Motel. Joe Rogan hosted the show where contestants were one at a time buried alive.


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