Psycho Literary Elements


Alfred Hitchcock

Leading Actors/Actresses

Janet Leigh, Anthony Perkins

Supporting Actors/Actresses

Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam






1961 - Oscar Nominations for Janet Leigh (Best Actress in a Supporting Role), Alfred Hitchcock (Best Director), John L. Russell (Best Cinematography, Black-and-White), Joseph Hurley/Robert Clatworthy/George Milo (Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White), Golden Globe Award for Janet Leigh (Best Supporting Actress), DGA Award Nominee for Alfred Hitchcock (Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures)

Date of Release

September 8, 1960 (Wide)


Alfred Hitchcock and Shamley Productions

Setting and Context

Phoenix, Arizona and small-town California (near Los Angeles)

Narrator and Point of View

For approximately the first half of Psycho, Marion Crane is the protagonist and Hitchcock is telling the story from her point of view. After her murder, the perspective shifts to Norman Bates, and later, to Lila Crane.

Tone and Mood

The mood of the film is suspenseful and somber. Hitchcock's tone is darkly humorous and pessimistic.

Protagonist and Antagonist

Protagonist: Marion Crane; Antagonist: "Mrs. Bates"

Major Conflict

At first, the main conflict in the film appears to be between Marion and the law, as she runs away with $40,000 that she's stolen from her boss in order to convince her boyfriend, Sam, to marry her. Halfway through the film, she encounters Norman Bates. After Marion's death, Hitchcock reveals the true conflict at the core of the film, which is between Norman Bates and his "mother".


There are arguably two main climaxes in Psycho. The first is the shower scene in which Marion is unexpectedly killed, thus ending her journey. The second takes place in the fruit cellar of the Bates home, when Lila discovers the truth about Norman and his mother.


Hitchcock frequently uses visual cues to foreshadow future events. For example, when Marion pulls up to the Bates Motel, her windshield wipers make diagonal slashes across the frame and foreshadow Marion's eventual murder in the shower. In terms of the dialogue, a good example of foreshadowing is when Marion tells Sam, "I pay, too. They also pay who meet in hotel rooms." Marion, of course, dies in a hotel room later in the film.


After Norman has fought with his mother about Marion coming to dinner, he tells Marion, "Mother's not herself today." This is an understatement because the truth is that "mother" hasn't been herself for the past ten years, since Norman is mother.

Innovations in Filming or Lighting or Camera Techniques

Hitchcock was first drawn to the idea of adapting Robert Bloch's novel Psycho into a film because of the unexpected nature of Marion's murder. To cast a star like Janet Leigh and then kill her off at the end of the film's first act was completely unheard of - then and now. Hitchcock was known as a technical innovator as well, as evinced by the extreme high-angle shots he uses in the Bates home as well as the rapid cuts that comprise the shower murder. In addition, the experimental strings-only score by Bernard Hermann is an integral part of creating Psycho's suspenseful atmosphere.


1) Critic Robert Kolker suggests that the stuffed crow in the Bates Motel parlor alludes to Edgar Allan Poe's famous poem, "The Raven", in which a talking raven visits a heartsick young man who is slowly losing his mind.

2) The unlabeled book that Lila finds in Norman's room alludes to the fact that in Victorian times, pornographic material was published without anything written on the spine. It's clear that it contains something shocking because Lila raises her eyebrows when she opens it.


Lila: "Did he kill my sister?"
Dr. Richman: "Yes - and no."

This is a paradox because Norman physically did kill Marion - but it was the "mother" half of his mind that drove his actions.


1) You get yourself settled, and take off your wet shoes, and I'll be back as soon as it's ready." - Norman Bates
2) "We scratch and claw, but only at the air, only at each other, and for all of it, we never budge an inch." - Norman Bates

The use of parallelism here gives Norman's speech a sing-song quality, which adds to his innocent and childlike demeanor (posing a stark contrast to his "mother" side).