Zero Is Not a Social Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

... She puts a robe on and stares at me. I can hear thunder in the distance and it begins to rain harder. She lights a cigarette and I start to dress. And then I call a cab and finally take the Wayfarers off and she tells me to be quiet walking down the stairs so I won't wake her parents. (Ellis 1985, 120-122)

In the second situation, he is with a girl Blair who was once his girlfriend. The girl needs to know if Clay has any feelings for her and his response explains why he was so devoid of emotions.

BLAIR: What do you care about? What makes you happy?

CLAY: Nothing. Nothing makes me happy. I like nothing.

BLAIR: Did you ever care about me, Clay?

CLAY: I don't want to care. If I care about things, it'll just be worse, it'll just be another thing to worry about. it's less painful if I don't care. (205)

All this suggests that Clay knows that there is something wrong with his life. But he doesn't want to question or probe since it is likely to lead to unwelcome and unflattering answers. For this reason, he chooses to silence his feelings and appears more like a mechanical mannequin that does what everyone else does because there appears to be no easy way out of the situation. But this doesn't follow that the novel has a non-existentialist theme. Far from it- the protagonist in this case knows and believes that his life is his own making but he is simply confused as to what could bring an end to the painful 'hollowness' of his existence.

Clay's existentialist bend of mind is visible from his various efforts to break free of the vicious circle of sex and drugs. He knows he needs help but help it appears is not forth coming. Clay has no one to turn to but he tries hard and this suggests that he was not exactly a non-existentialist being, willing to succumb to the dead monotonous of his indulgent lifestyle. On one occasion for example, his father shows concern and asks if he is fine. Clay murmurs "It's the drugs,' " his father replies, " 'I didn't quite hear that' " (43). This is a sign of his detachment from his children, which is one reason Clay, and his friends are 'lost'. But Clay is different because he is aware of his problems unlike some others who had simply given up and were tired of struggle. The protagonist knows that their lives are just a hollow picture of perfection because more than one glance could reveal the inner turmoil everyone was suffering from. "My father looks pretty healthy if you don't look at him for too long" (42) He knows, understand and feels every single problem like any other person of his age but he refuses to react probably because he realized long time ago that it was absolutely futile to feel and react. On one occasion, he dispassionately explains: "It doesn't bother me that my father leaves me waiting... For thirty minutes while he's in some meeting and then asks me why I'm late" (41)..."doesn't really make me angry" (42).

Clay understands that they are not like other kids. For them spending time with parents is considered an embarrassment and parents are usually the most destabilizing force in their lives.

Jesus, Clay, you look like you're on acid or something," Blair says, lighting another cigarette.

I just had dinner with my mother," I tell her. (96-97)

The fact that Clay wants change and needs someone to pay him attention is clear from his conversation with a young psychiatrist. The protagonist is desperately seeking an answer to his inner turmoil and confusion but the psychiatrist is just as shallow as the rest of them. Clay admits that he has problems but psychiatrist starts some meaningless discussion on Elvis Castello showing that like others in Beverley Hills, he didn't take drug problems seriously. But Clay is adamant, he wants answers: "What about me?" he demands. The psychiatrist simply shrugs it off nonchalantly: " 'Come on, Clay... Don't be so... mundane' " (123).

Clay wants to survive, not like his other friends, but like a real human being. However those who are supposed to care ignore his survival attempts on most occasions. The only source left to him is himself. Clay realizes that his survival depends on him so he begins observing how this decadent lifestyle had affected his friends.

Julian is a perfect case of someone who succumbed to peer pressure in Beverley Hills lifestyle and has long given up. Finn, the drug dealer, who regularly injects Julian with heroin dose, is a symbol of evil influences that one attracts to himself when life is aimless and man has conceded defeat. Clay observes how Finn deals with Julian: "Now, you know that you're my best boy and you know that I care for you. Just like my own kid. Just like my own son...' " (171). Finn knows that these kids need love and he makes a mockery of their problems by using gentle kind words to give them a sense of belonging.

Unlike other kids in the novel, Clay is definitely more fearful of what might become of him. He is concerned about his life, which knows an existentialist interest in living and surviving. He wants an identity of his own that Beverley Hills lifestyle cannot offer. In this part of the country, everyone looked the same and everyone felt the same-"...thin, tan bodies, short blond hair, blank look in the blue eyes, same empty toneless voices" - and Clay doesn't want to "look exactly like them" but he knows he might (152).

Some of the more revealing signs of Clay's desperation for freedom and survival appear during his interaction with his friends Julian and Muriel. He notices that with his drug addiction, Julian looked "almost dead" (91). He was no longer a friend too since the one reason he visited Clay was to borrow money. This is how he uses symbolic language to describe the pathetic condition of Julian: "... Sitting on the desk is this glass paperweight with a small fish trapped in it, its eyes staring out helplessly, almost as if it was begging to be freed, and I start to wonder, if the fish is already dead, does it even matter?" (168)

It is during his meetings with Julian and Muriel in the extreme stage of their respective addictions that Clay realizes that each one of them wanted end to their wretched existence. Julian had sought refuge in drugs while Muriel was obsessed with death while she was receiving treatment for anorexia. They were almost dead anyway and suicide is therefore a common occurrence in this class. Muriel is as desperate for freedom as Clay himself, only she seeks it through death. On one occasions, she begs Clay to let her wear his T-shirt with a sign red mark in the middle: " 'It looks as if you got stabbed or something. Please let me wear it,' Muriel pleads..." (82).

Clay notices that death was a more pervasive reality in his society than anywhere else. It was like everyone was waiting for death to strike and take him out of his miserable state. Parents were just adult versions of the decadent youth and thus couldn't offer any sound advice. Friends were suffering from similar problems and thus were useless. Religion was non-existent so death appeared to be the only real ally. Many images in the book suggest an obsession with death in this class- for example: a film "about this group of young pretty sorority girls who get their throats slit" (97); a billboard with "huge green skull" (106); a song titled "Somebody Got Murdered" (181); a song "Sex and Dying in High Society" (184) etc.

After seeing all this maliciousness during his Christmas vacations, Clay chooses not to be like the others in this group. He had seen enough and decides that he must leave the scene if he didn't want to end up hollow and half-dead as his friends. "These images stayed with me even after I left the city. Images so violent and malicious that they seemed to be my only point of reference for a long time afterwards. After I left" (208). His decision to leave was a sensible one since it was impossible to stay in the midst of aimlessness and find some meaning and direction. It was author's way of offering a solution to a problem that had been eating Clay since he had arrived in Los Angeles on a Christmas break.


Less Than Zero," New Republic, 10 June 1985: 142

Bret Easton Ellis,…

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