“Loneliness has followed me my whole life, everywhere. In bars, in cars, sidewalks, stores, everywhere. There's no escape. I'm God's lonely man.”
This voiceover narration by the titular taxi driver tells us very clearly that Travis is a lonely and isolated man. Here, Travis says it himself: he is "always alone," and for him his loneliness has an almost religious significance: he is "God's lonely man." This quote appears later in the film, when Travis feels particularly cut off from society and is growing more obsessed with his rescue of Iris. This quote is at once self-pitying and self-aggrandizing. While Travis bemoans his isolated state, professing that there is "no escape," his isolation also becomes grounds for his violent behavior, and his conviction that he is fated to walk the earth alone and alienated.
The narrative device of Travis's diary was inspired by the journal of Arthur Bremer, the disturbed man who attempted to assassinate Governor George Wallace. Bremer’s diary provided much insight and evidence into his psyche and his pathologies. The figure of the assassin is more often than not a figure who feels un-integrable in society, and so forges a radical and often transgressive path as a form of retaliation. Travis Bickle fits this characterization perfectly.
“I first saw her at Palantine Campaign headquarters at 63rd and Broadway. She was wearing a white dress. She appeared like an angel. Out of this filthy mess, she is alone. They... cannot... touch... her.”
The pauses between the final four words signify that Bickle is not just narrating, but writing them down. In this quote, Travis describes his first run-in with Betsy, the blonde woman working at Palantine’s campaign office. For a more well-adjusted person, the characterization of Betsy as an “angel” would be entirely symbolic, but there is a desperately literal quality to Travis's words here, and we suspect that, confronted with the beauty of Betsy, Travis has a hard time distinguishing between fantasy and reality.
In just a few sentences, Travis confirms that his attraction to Betsy is not only attraction, but a deranged and possessive obsession, as he insists that no one else can touch her. He wants to capture her for his own, and he cannot bear to see her alone in the world. In a projective fantasy, he mistakes his ardent and obsessive desire for Betsy's needs, but to the viewer, Betsy seems perfectly capable of taking care of herself.
“Thank God for the rain to wash the trash off the sidewalk.”
Travis is haunted by the trash and grime of the city, both literally and symbolically. While in this quote, he expresses gratefulness that the rain has physically cleaned the city, he also regularly uses the word "clean" to refer to the moral standard he has for the world. Travis demands a stark differentiation between good and evil, between dirty and clean. This quote, found early in the movie, reveals Travis's burgeoning obsession with such differentiations.
“I think you're a lonely person. I drive by this place a lot and I see you here. I see a lot of people around you. And I see all these phones and all this stuff on your desk. It means nothing. Then when I came inside and I met you, I saw in your eyes and I saw the way you carried yourself that you're not a happy person. And I think you need something. And if you want to call it a friend, you can call it a friend.”
Here Travis tries to diagnose Betsy's loneliness as a way of convincing her that she ought to date him. In an impressive psychological turn, Travis projects all of his own loneliness and purposelessness onto Betsy. Perhaps she is lonely; but Travis isn't really talking about her. Travis exhibits an invasive presumptuousness in this line, telling Betsy she is unhappy and incomplete. Like a highly motivated salesman, Travis tries to convince Betsy that something is missing from her life, and that that something is his companionship.
“All my life needed was a sense of someplace to go. I don't believe that one should devote his life to morbid self-attention, I believe that one should become a person like other people.”
In this quote, Travis outlines his desires and his hopes for himself. Rather inarticulately, but still evocatively, Travis suggests that it is important to integrate with the public world and become "a person like other people." Here he outlines his goals to do just that.
While he professes to needing a direction into which to put his energies, his observations on the subject of "morbid self-attention" reveal him to be curiously lacking in self-awareness. Indeed, it is his own morbid self-attention that has made Travis into "God’s lonely man" and which keeps him cut off from being "a person like other people." Throughout the film, Travis stubbornly refuses to look within, which causes him to deceive himself, but ultimately turn out a New York hero.
“Now I see this clearly. My whole life is pointed in one direction. There never has been a choice for me.”
In this quote, Travis prepares to rescue Iris, seeing his task more and more as a calling of almost religious proportions. Like a saint with a commission from God, Travis tells the viewer that his whole life has pointed in this "one direction," that he has "no choice." In the absence of choice, Travis characterizes his actions as fated, and effectually denies responsibility for the gruesome acts he is about to commit. Here Travis purports to have a heroic purpose, driven by neither faith nor psychosis. At this point in the film, Travis's frustration has left him grasping for any shred of explanation for the way his life is turning out.
“Look at it this way. A man takes a job, you know? And that job—I mean, like that—that becomes what he is. You know, like—You do a thing and that's what you are. Like I've been a cabbie for thirteen years. Ten years at night. I still don't own my own cab. You know why? Because I don't want to. That must be what I want. To be on the night shift drivin' somebody else's cab. You understand? I mean, you become—you get a job, you become the job. One guy lives in Brooklyn. One guy lives in Sutton Place. You got a lawyer. Another guy's a doctor. Another guy dies. Another guy gets well. People are born, y'know? I envy you, your youth. Go on, get laid, get drunk. Do anything. You got no choice, anyway. I mean, we're all fucked. More or less, ya know.”
The balding fellow cabbie, Wizard, dispenses these lines when Travis goes to him for guidance in the wake of Betsy's rejection. In this quote, Wizard offers Travis very practical advice—"get laid, get drunk"—but fails to comfort or quell Travis's existential anxieties or offer him any particularly comforting words. Where Travis wants answers, Wizard has only shrugs and offers the rather nihilistic assurance that "we're all fucked."
“You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? Then who the hell else are you talking... you talking to me? Well I'm the only one here.”
The American Film Institute ranked “You talkin’ to me” as the 10th most memorable quote from an American film produced during the first 100 years of the history of movies. As Travis looks at his reflection in the mirror, he addresses himself suspiciously with challenges and aggressive provocations, brandishing a gun menacingly at his own image. The quote highlights the fact that Travis is suspicious not only of the world, but of himself, that beneath his self-assured posturing is a definite self-hatred and distrust of himself.
This quote also shows Travis's propensity toward taking things literally. Indeed, he actually is the only one there. He usually is the only one there and, what’s more, even when he’s not, we never see Travis so overtly confrontational or aggressive. The mirror and the gun give Travis a cockiness that we have not seen previously.
Travis: Girls should live at home.
Iris: Didn't you ever hear of women's lib?
Travis: What do you mean 'women's lib'? You sure are a young girl. You should be at home now. You should be dressed up. You should be goin' out with boys. You should be goin' to school. You know, that kind of stuff.
Iris: Oh god, are you square.
Travis: Hey I'm not square. You're the one that's square. You're full of shit, man. What are you talkin' about? You walk out with those fuckin' creeps and lowlifes and degenerates out on the street and you sell your, sell your little pussy for nothin' man. For some lowlife pimp—stands in a hall. I'm, I'm square? You're the one that's square, man. I don't go screw and fuck with a bunch of killers and junkies the way you do. You call that bein' hip? What world are you from?
In this exchange between Travis and Iris, Iris mistakes Travis's concern about her profession as evidence of his squareness, a sure sign that he is not hip. Iris teases Travis by suggesting that her desire to run away from home and become a child prostitute arose from the women's lib movement, the feminist notion that women should be allowed to determine their own lives. Travis tries to convince Iris that hipness is not the issue at stake, and that to mistake criminality and the sexual abuse of children for hipness is dangerous and misguided.
I realize now how much she's just like the others—cold and distant, and many people are like that. Women for sure. They're like a union.
Spoken in voiceover, Travis writes this line in his journal after confronting Betsy in Palantine's office. Having once put her on an unimpeachable pedestal, Travis now criticizes Betsy, and all women, for their coldness and distance. Unable to see his situation as particular, he speaks in generalities about the faults of the female gender, and compares them unfavorably to a worker's union, the ultimate symbol of collective solidarity. For Travis, the lone wolf, "God's lonely man," the union represents the threat of the crowd, banding people together in a world that seems unequivocally to reject him.
Taxi Driver Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Taxi Driver is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.