Don't read too much into this, 'k?

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As I read David Punter's analysis of Robert Bloch's Psycho, I found many valid points in his discussion of the novel.  I found some things especially interesting.  One of the things that stood out to me was Punter's note that " is a double death which is referred to, the deaths of a man and a woman; although the deaths do not actually occur simultaneously" (Punter 96).  I can see how the original murders - those of Norman's mother and her lover - connect in the murderers mind with these two later murders.

And that's when I got to thinking.  Does it have to be this way?  Did Bloch have to think all these things, to plan all these deeply insightful journeys into his pyschopath's mind?

Or did Bloch one day just sit down at his typewriter (that's what they used to write with in the 1950's, right?) and say, "Man, wouldn't it be great if there was this guy who killed these people dressed up in his mother's skin?!"

I had these same thoughts when reading The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and discussing the possibilities of homosexual undertones in the story.  Why couldn't Robert Louis Stevenson, gay or straight, just write a great story about a guy who managed to split himself into two personalities, one good and one bad?

Why do we search for hidden agendas and not just proclaim the beauty of a great plot?

Am I thinking this just because I don't have veiled meanings in my stories?  If someone were to read my work, would they wonder about latent lesbian tendencies or how well I delved into the psyche of a Regency era woman?  Would it matter if they did?  Heck, I might actually be flattered that they did - and then I'd run with it and say that was exactly my intent.

I know that Plato and Fish and Wolff have all debated literary theory before me, but I still wonder when plot is more than plot and words are more than words.

What makes it not enough for a writer to simply tell a good story?  Is there something wrong with the reader if he or she tries to dig up a meaning behind the words?

What makes us as readers search for hidden meanings?  Are we scared that someone like Bloch might tell a story of a shower-time decapitation without having multiple layers of psychoanalytical meaning?

What would happen if all the stories we read were just that, stories?  People would have to look at themselves, then, for the reaction a story created.

I think that's why we love to give deeper meanings to works of art.  If Stevenson didn't intend to put homosexual allusions in his story, then that means there is some part of us that sees those images in the text.  That's what scares us.  It's okay if an author put something in his or her story.  It's not okay if we take something out of the story. 

Especially in horror fiction, if we see our own meaning in a story, it means that we can relate to the story.  To relate to a horror story is... well, it's horrifying!  No one wants to admit that they could understand why someone would have a sexual relationship with a lock of hair.

So, I say to you, we need to look for the deeper meanings in literary criticism.  It is clear that David Punter had mother issues.  In fact, more than that, he struggles with his sexual identity.  Because of how his mother treated him, he wants to turn himself into a woman, though he struggles with how to become a "young girl with beautiful breasts" (Punter 95).


Works Cited


Punter, David. "Robert Bloch's Psycho: Some Pathological Contexts." In American Horror Fiction: From Brockden Brown to Stephen King. Ed. Brian Docherty. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1990. 92-106.



Mike Arnzen said:

We writers have to get used to this: once a book is published, it is no longer entirely our own, and there's no such thing as a story in a vacuum.

Hmmm...if anything, the very lesson of PSYCHO is to not trust what you see on the surface, no? Your point is still valid, of course, but I think that books should be causes for conversation. That's what keeps the story alive. Would it help if you think of it this way: a text is the trampoline; your response is you flying away from the trampoline...farther and farther away from it...but in a direction you would NEVER have gone if not for the trampoline. When you return back to the trampoline due to gravity, you bounce in a different direction. Maybe you bounce off one trampoline (Psycho) and hit against another (Punter) and go in all sorts of crazy directions. That encounter with the rubber is what matters. Quit kicking the legs under trampoline; take a leap.

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