Less Than Zero

Culture and Tension in Less Than Zero College

Tension between a protagonist and the society in which he lives is an element of storytelling which can be found in many texts across many millennia. The story of Jesus Christ's crucifixion is a particularly notable example, though the great novels of 19th century realism also pit well-defined individuals against entire cultures. Less than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis is a latter-day example of such a text; Clay, its narrator and protagonist, shows persistent disaffection and apathy throughout the novel, retreating to pharmaceutical solutions, or alcohol, to manage his feelings and retain a place in society. This essay intends to discuss the ways in which that tension is displayed in Less Than Zero, including examination of Clay's relationships with his parents, friends, siblings, and with the wider world around him.

Perhaps the most salient point with which to start is Clay's admission on page 140 that he wonders if “[he] look[s] exactly like them” (Ellis, p. 140, 1985). Almost every man in this novel is described as being blond, tan and thin, and Clay too fits those descriptors perfectly. So a big part of the tension between Clay and the society in which he lives is that he looks exactly like all the other men, and struggles to...

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