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Violence and sexuality are usually the theme for action movies. In Hitchcock’s Psycho, violence is brought out as a substitute for sexuality. Norman Bates uses violence to release his sexual frustration. Two clues in the movie to support such an idea are: taxidermy and the shower murder.
To most people, taxidermy is a hobby; in Norman s case, stuffing birds can be viewed as a sign of violence and sexuality. Hobbies are usually regarded as innocent activities of casual interest, designed to help pass the time. Stuffing birds in a way is a cruel treatment to animals for it involves killing and suffering. The Oxford English Dictionary defines taxidermy as “the act of preparing and preserving the skins of animals, and stuffing and mounting them so as to present the appearance, attitude, etc. of the living animal.” Norman enjoys doing such thing in order to keep the creatures in his possession. People who like stuffing birds are not all necessary violent, or have the tendency that Norman does. Norman grows up in a single parent family His mother is a controlling and demanding woman who takes away his chance of socializing and disconnects him from society. Thus, we can imagine how little association Norman has had with women. Moreover, the mother s overprotection causes a permanent breakdown of masculinity for Norman. Norman s masculinity is replaced by a horrendous and power-obsessed femininity. Norman doesn t appreciate the way his mother treats him. The viewer sees his dissatisfaction from the argument Norman has with his mother when he invites Marion to the house for dinner. It is not the mother herself fighting with Norman. It is Norman impersonating the mother and imagining the way his mother would be treats him in such a case. Needless to say, Norman has built up his anger towards the mother over the years. His desire for a woman and his discontentedness towards his mother have to be released in some way. He chooses to stuff birds to express his dissatisfaction with his social life.
Yet, its significance that Norman chooses to “stuff” and keep the “dead” birds rather than have the live birds of his own. Norman is longing for independence from his mother and the freedom of running away from the mother s possession. In other words, Norman is looking forward to being himself and making decisions for his own life. He needs the freedom and is jealous of anyone who has such freedom. Hitchcock in the film uses birds to deliver the freedom message and indicates that birds become the first victim of his jealousy. He chooses to take away the birds freedom by taking away their lives rather than keeping live birds in the cage. This implies his hidden violence in taxidermy. Stuffing birds becomes his so-called “hobby” which indeed is a method of frustration release.
The way Norman views birds is different than the way the rest of us. To Norman, birds are signs of women. He tells Marion, “I think only birds look well stuffed because they’re kind of passive to begin with.” In a male dominated society, women are sometimes considered as soft, tender, and the delicate human beings. In Norman s world, women as well as birds could be described as “passive” objects. The resemblance between birds and women tells us the way Norman s ideal woman is viewed in his social life. The connection between women and “stuffed birds” is clear in the film. Norman describes his mother as being “as harmless as one of those stuffed birds.” When he has finished stabbing Marion in the shower, she slumps out of the shower and we see one of her unblinking eyes which makes her look like a bird. Norman makes it obvious to us that women are constructed as “stuffed,” passive creatures in his eyes. Since stuffing birds is a tool Norman uses to release his dissatisfaction in his social life, and birds have taken the place of women, it literally described how Norman displays the sex act through his behavior of stuffing birds.
The shower murder is the primary sexual act displayed in the film. There are two significant questions in this well-known scene: what are Norman s murder motivations and why is the murder projected onto the mother side of Norman? Basically, the questions can be analyzed from the perspectives of Norman and the mother side of Norman. That means what Norman and the mother thinks of Marion and what threats does Marion pose to both sides of Norman are critical in order to explain Norman s violence substitute for sexuality. It can be argued that Norman murders Marion out of jealousy and because of the instability his masculinity. His sexual inability which hosted by the violent mother side makes him a murderer instead of a rapist. The mother side of Norman also fears her power over Norman will eventually be take over by the existence of Marion.
To Norman, Marion has two qualities that he does not have: freedom and wholeness. Marion is a woman who has the freedom to determine her own life and can run away from her trouble. Marion gives him ideas about going out and socializing with friends and sending the mother to an institution. These messages send him the notion of the freedom Norman is incapable of acquiring and causes Norman to become nervous and jealous of Marion. His jealousy of Marion in a way is just like his jealousy of birds. Such jealousy makes Norman kill birds. Now we can use the same theory to explain one of the reasons why Norman murders Marion.
Norman also views Marion as an image of wholeness. Marion is a complete woman, while Norman is an incomplete man whose body is possessed by both masculine (Norman) and feminine(the mother) personalities. When Marion appears in the hotel, the sexual desire is aroused in Norman. He can watch Marion undress, can displace the sexual act through stuffing birds, but he cannot have sex with her. His bisexual personalities confuse him whether or not performing sexual activities is legitimate. Also, growing up in a overprotective single parent family, Norman is greatly influenced by his mother. As Norman says, “A man s best friend is his mother.” Norman s mother teaches him that women are cheap and bring out the “cheapness” in man. Women distract men from austere and rational understanding of the world. As we learn from the mother s dialog, “No, I will not have you bringing some strange young girl in for supper. By candlelight, I suppose, in the cheap erotic fashion of young men with cheap erotic minds.” Such wrongful understanding of male and female relationship has been taught to Norman over the years. It probably does not surprise the audience to learn that Norman is incapable of having normal sexual relationship with women. Therefore, Marion s appearance threaten Norman as a male fearing female sexuality. Hitchcock elaborates this idea even more during the shower murder. In the shower room, Marion displays a young and naked female body which makes a strong contrast to Norman s sexual desire and sexual inability. Norman s abnormal state of mind is clearly displayed in this sequence: as the trapped man’s desire to destroy a woman who has achieved the freedom he will never achieve, and a violent substitute for the rape that Norman dares not carry out.
The film does not figure the feminized Norman as a positive character. The power-dominated mother side of him does not allow another woman to interfere with Norman s “one woman” life. More or less the mother fears the potential influence Marion has over Norman when she senses that he has sexual desire for her. When the traditional masculinity of Norman fails, a murderous mother emerges. Significantly, the film suggests that the possessed, dangerous, feminized Norman is incapable of sexual relations. It proves that Norman s sexual desire toward Marion can only be displayed through the slaughter because of his sexual inability.
In conclusion, Hitchcock uses taxidermy to present the protagonist s hidden violence and further implicates that his violence is a substitute for sexuality. The abnormal relationship between violence and sexuality is suggested in both taxidermy and the shower murder. The extent of Norman s violent state of mind throughout the film is somehow seen from a close distance but yet unreachable. The violent protagonist is psychically possessed by a feminine personality which results in a permanent breakdown of masculinity. For one thing, Norman is intensely sympathetic, vulnerable and trapped by his devotion to his mother. He is very unbalanced and helpless. He is a likeable human being in an intolerable situation, desperately in need of help and protection.
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