It’s pretty clear to me why Psycho by Robert Bloch is considered a classic in the horror genre. Not only can I be afraid for Mary each and every time I read it, but I’m always impressed with the language and (with the exception of the last two chapters) the fact that the ending is not necessarily the expected one. I also learn something different about writing from the novel during each reading. The lesson this go round was: The Art of Foreshadowing.
Bloch begins the lesson with detailed description of the cadaver drums Norman is reading about (Bloch, 9). He moves seamlessly from Norman reading about the macabre music to Norman hearing the same music coming from Mother’s mouth. In the comparison of her speech to that of the dead body, Mother’s state of existence is foreshadowed. Even first time readers of Psycho would probably think at this moment that there was something a little off about describing ones mother as sounding like a dead body that has been specially prepared to serve a purpose other than what it normally would. Of course, anyone familiar with the story knows that Mother and the body drums are alike in just that way, as her body has also been diverted from its original purpose.
More overt is Mary’s thought of having “made her grave and lying in it” (Bloch, 25). The twist on the cliché is more than morbid. Moving along the train of thought from bed to grave isn’t a stretch, but that line of thinking coming from a young woman who has taken steps to make her life a happy one would not likely be so pessimistic. The thought comes unbidden, perhaps from Mary’s future, as the reader knows soon enough that Mary has indeed made her grave and will lie in it.
And what about Mary’s first thought about Norman, that “there wouldn’t be any trouble” (Bloch, 26)? We’ve already seen that this young man is talked to rather roughly by his mother and he’s stuck with her for the rest of his life. That’s a situation waiting for the chance to become tragic, and Mary walks right into it thinking everything will be okay. Her further conversation with Norman shows she clearly wasn’t paying close attention to his mannerisms, because with all the personal information he gave her upon first meeting her, she should have been more wary than she was. Who tells their entire life story to a stranger, unless they know the stranger will never be able to ridicule them over it or tell anyone else? Many other telling phrases follow that lead to Mary being dead by page 37. And we did see it coming, although subtly. Lesson well taught.
One additional realization that came from this reading was the use of the names Norma and Norman. Nor-Ma as Norman’s mother, who for the entire novel was dead (negated, non-existent in this realm of reality) was very nice. Just as interesting was Nor-Man as the person who was indeed not allowed to be a man. And even though I felt the last two chapters could have been left out of the book entirely, if they had, I would have missed the best of all: Nor-Mal as the “adult Norman Bates, who had to go through the daily routine of living” (Bloch, 154). Yes, this is classic, indeed. And worth every read.