Gender issues abound in this novel.
For the first time we witness a man who is psychologically bound to his mother. Does this make Mother a strong female character? Not necessarily. Yes, Normans “mother” personality seems to win over his in the end, but she doesn’t really exist. It is all in Norman’s delusion. How can a personality disorder be considered strength, especially the female inside the male body? Does the personality have dominance? Yes, she does, but that only emphasizes the weak shell that it inhabits. The real Mother is dead, long dead there is no strength left there.
Then we have Mary Crane, a young woman in love and willing to steal so that she can win her man and become an honest woman through marriage. Her relationship with Sam Loomis is unsatisfactory and must be hidden because it is unsavory for a young woman to be in a sexual relationship and not be married. So, when does Mary become a victim? When she is murdered in the shower, or when she has her moment of insanity and steals money to get a man? The thought of waiting for two years to marry Sam was something she could not bear, “two years, she’d be twenty-nine. She couldn’t afford to pull a bluff, stage a scene and walk out on him like some young girl of twenty” (27). The old maid syndrome was hitting her hard. This was a time when a woman had to be married to be complete and Mary was going beyond the call of duty to make this happen. And all of this for a man who can’t even tell the difference between her and her sister. She has to endure being hit on by Cassidy, the man she steals the money from, when he suggests “she take a ‘little trip’ with him down to Dallas for the weekend” (28). There had to be some satisfaction in stealing his money, yet there is the realization that there was nothing she could really do about disgusting men hitting on her in her work place. Mary gets victimized repeatedly until her murder, the ultimate victimization. And this happens again because of her sexuality.
Mary does have some strengths. She sacrificed her own ambitions to take care of her sick mother and send her kid sister college. It took a certain amount of strength to steal the money, and even more to decide to take it back. Unfortunately she never has the opportunity to return it.
So, who is the strong woman in Psycho? What about Lila Crane? Here is a young woman who went off to college and found herself a career that has her traveling (one of the reasons it is easy for Mary to steal the money, because Lila is off on a business trip). Lila is the one who initiates looking for Mary. She is the one who will not take no for an answer. It is Lila who eventually finds Mother in the basement. And in Bloch’s novel Lila goes up to the house without Sam’s approval or knowledge. Norman tells him, “You thought she went on to get the Sheriff, the way you told her. But she has a mind of her own. She wanted to take a look at the house. And that’s what she did do” (192). Lila doesn’t follow the rules that society and men set down for her, even Norman understands this about her immediately. She shows strength that the men in the story don’t even have. The only moment she needs someone to save her is in the basement when Norman is going to kill her after her discovery of Mother. Sam rescues her just in time, but I thought it was interesting that Lila screams, (who wouldn’t with a knife and crazy person coming at you), and then quits screaming quite quickly. She closes her mouth the “scream continued. It was the insane scream of an hysterical woman, and it came from the throat of Norman Bates” (208).
In the end the “hysterical woman” is a man. I thought this was a particularly interesting twist to the story. Bloch is a genius when it comes to blurring that gender line.