Protagonist Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), right, speaks to Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) in a still shot from the 1960 film "Psycho." (Image courtesy of Shamley Productions / Paramount Pictures)
The Webb Schools

Review: A literary analysis of Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’

“Psycho,” the 1960 horror film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, was considered to be both a classic and first modern horror film opening the viewers of cinema to the “slasher” genre.

The “slasher” or “psycho” is Norman Bates, and he takes on a complex role in the film, seen in the duality between him and Marion — the initial protagonist who he murdered.

Hitchcock skillfully portrays this idea in solo scenes as Marion driving to Bates Motel and the final scene as Norman sits in the police station, not as separate ideas, but rather a call and response to Marion’s pursuit for respectability.

Although their duality might be obscured by having opposing roles in the plot, Hitchcock relies on film techniques and symbolism to portray the doubling of Marion and Norman Bates to voice his opinion against a repressive society. This repression in the ’60s was a historically relevant factor in the acceptance of identity and is still relevant today in a contemporary context. 

The film initially follows Marion and her attempt to escape a repressed society to have a respectable relationship until she is killed by Norman, in which the protagonist becomes Norman. Hitchcock portrays these two characters alone to emphasize their exclusiveness and in their respective ways, estrangement from society.

As Marion escapes from the city, supposedly representing the society she runs away from, she ends up at the Bates Motel. Her journey to Bates Motel symbolizes the traversing from the public world into the private and from the restrictive world into the free one. As the conditions become stormy when she drives, the visual effect of the sign appearing out of the storm seems positive, a lifeline thrown to Marion in her distress, but the motel is only an illusion of freedom and not an escape.

The viewer continues to find out that Bates Motel is another place of repression, in which Norman is driven psychopathic because of his repressive mother. Marion gets killed by Norman, a murderer because he is repressed. Norman’s mother represents repressive authority as she was abusive and controlling of Norman during his childhood, so Bates Motel symbolically represents the society that Marion is running from.

Hitchcock first shows that Marion is unable to escape repression because she is killed, and similarly, Norman is unable to escape his mother’s oppressive control in her murder because she still lives in his mind as he is engulfed with this obsession with her.

Hitchcock is addressing the overlying societal pressures in Marion’s previous life through the duality between the characters. The house watches over what Marion initially sees as shelter (Bates Motel), and it symbolizes a smaller version of the repressive society.

In a pessimistic view, Hitchcock implies that there is no escape from society because as Marion runs away, she only finds Bates Motel and more repression. The two characters are trying to escape from a repressive society to freedom — for Marion, respectability and for Norman, individuality — but ended in tragedy.

Hitchcock’s film hinges on a larger societal idea that people should be free from a repressive society but not to the extent where they become a danger to themselves or others. He addresses greater contemporary issues with repression seen in Norman revolving around unhealthy obsessions and desires that come from a lack of free will.

Although the film is from the ’60s, it addresses a timeless dilemma with inequality and the oppression that comes with it through the duality of these two characters.