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Norman/Mother, Two for the Price of One

I want to talk repetition. Robert Bloch uses repetition to great advantage in Psycho. There are two instances that stuck out to me. The first is the use of the word “clean” and the second is “mirror.” The word “clean” can be taken in many contexts, but for a horror story there is something almost menacing, yet purifying about the word. And the “mirror” is a reflection of the person looking into it.

When we think of the word clean we think of freshness and purity, but Bloch transforms the word into a moment of menace and dread. He uses it first when Mary is getting ready to take her shower. She had just made the decision to return the money and go home. She is feeling pretty good with herself at this point, nothing to fear. She is going to make everything right and make amends. For Mary the shower meant two things, “Get the dirt off her hide, just as she was going to get the dirt cleaned out of her insides” (49). One of these things was actual, to clean up after a long day of nervous running and the other symbolic, cleaning her insides. Washing away the bad decision that she had made and getting her life back on track. Then she thinks to herself, “Come clean, Mary. Come clean as snow” (49). Does this remind anyone else of the nursery rhyme “Mary had a little lamb its fleece was white as snow”? I can’t help but wonder if Bloch did this on purpose, give the reader something familiar. But, isn’t there something eerie about nursery rhymes? I thought this not only had slight menacing overtones, but was also an interesting way to set the reader up for the shower scene. Here was a young woman that was on the wrong path deciding to do something right and in a moment she will be brutally murdered as she is trying to clean, not only her outer self, but her inner self. Scary.
Then there is Norman. After the murder Norman has to clean up Mothers mess. He comes back from dumping Mary’s car in the swamp and cleans himself up. He is only concerned about getting all the blood off of himself and anything else it may have contaminated, “No blood on his clothes, no blood on his body, no blood on his hands” (74). This was important to wipe away any residue of Mary and her death. But, it is more than just cleaning up the blood and the messy murder. It is about cleaning himself and his part in what happened. If there is no blood, then he doesn’t feel responsible. Perhaps this is another way for his mind to deny his own involvement with Mother and Mary. “Now he was clean. He could move his numb legs, propel his numb body up the stairs and into the bedroom, sink into bed and sleep. With clean hands” (74). He could finally sleep “with clean hands.” I found this to be a symbolic cleanliness, Norman washing himself clean of the murder and Mother. If he has clean hands then he had nothing to do with Mary’s death. Is there something in his subconscious that is trying to tell him that he is the murderer? I think so. This is one of the reasons he must clean up because, “now he was clean,” his subconscious is clean too. And there is something menacing and dreadful about Norman being able to sleep with his clean hands, knowing that there is a dead girl in the swamp behind his home.
The mention of the mirror was one of the first repetitions that I noticed. Mirrors can say so much to us as we look into them. There are bad days when we look in the mirror and think “Oh my God, do I really look this bad?” and there are other days when we preen happily in front of our reflection. But, what about Norman’s perception of the reflections he sees?

Norman watches Mary through the peephole of his office. She is standing in front of the door mirror and Norman can watch her reflection as she undresses. But, there is something wrong with his perception of the image, “the mirror was all wavy lines and lights that made him dizzy” (59). This happens as Mary is taking off her bra. Norman view is skewed by the wavy image in the mirror. It happens again on the same page when Mary starts to sway in front of the mirror, “she was swaying back and forth, back and forth, and now the mirror was wavy again and she was wavy, and he couldn’t stand it” (59). Every time Mary does something that begins to turn Norman on the reflection in the mirror becomes unstable. Norman and his mixed up ideas of what is evil and perverted bring on a spell of his psychotic behavior and soon Mother comes into the picture to make everything clear once again.
This skewed reflection could also be a representation of Norman’s split personality. Later in the book we see him in front of a mirror once more. He is shaving this time and he doesn’t like to shave because, “of the mirror. It had those wavy lines in it. All mirrors seemed to have wavy lines that hurt his eyes” (115). He goes on to remember how he used to like looking into mirrors, until Mother caught him looking at himself naked and smacked him in the head with a hairbrush (115). He remembers that “from then on it seemed he got a headache almost every time he looked in a mirror” (115-116). Looking into a mirror has become something dirty and evil, perverted even. So the way he sees his own image is the way he perceives himself. There is something wavy and unclear in his personality. I think it is the double image of his personalities. The mirror reflects what we see of ourselves and for Norman it is unclear.

Comments (1)

Great point about the subtle 'nursery rhyme' use in the story... I was wondering where I heard that before; you nailed it!

Norman is rife with guilt, I think, and the focus on himself as 'unclean' really reveals this. I remember in the movie, being struck by just how much more time Hitchcock spends on the 'clean up' sequence than the 'shower' scene that precedes it.

There's a book by Mary Douglas called PURITY AND DANGER that you might find interesting reading someday. It addresses social "boundaries" really interestingly.

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