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Analyzing Richard Matheson’s Short Story ‘Prey’ Essay

Rakshit Bhasker Dr. Jonathan Ball ENGL 1400 A05 9 December 2015 [Research Paper Title] Horror stories are created in such a way to create fear, fascination, and excitement amongst the readers. They frequently comprise of different elements, a supernatural force or creature, for example monsters and zombies, or a psychotic figure being the more commonly used ones. Psychosis is a disorder in which a person has difficulty distinguishing between reality and perception, due to their impaired thoughts and emotions.

Madness is relatively similar, in which the behavior of that person is usually not under control, therefore, seeming like a threat to personal safety or safety of others. The short story “Prey” which appears in Richard Matheson’s collection I Am The Legend is a great example of how psychotic elements provide a real treat for all the horror story lovers. This essay will discuss how psychosis incorporated in a horror story, creates immense anxiety amongst the characters within the story as well as the readers.

Psychosis takes control over the thoughts and emotions of an individual causing them to believe in bizarre objects, which might not exist in reality, or causing them to act strangely due to their apprehension. In the story “Prey” Amelia is a victim of psychosis and displays madness in various parts, causing anxiety, which can be evidenced by many instances. Firstly, Amelia’s thought of buying a wooden Zuni doll with a spear clutched in its hand, which she admits is the ugliest looking doll she has ever seen before, as a birthday present, is quite unusual.

Generally, a birthday present is imagined as something more pleasant. This abnormality or insanity is a sign of psychosis. This initiates a sense of eagerness or anxiety amongst the readers, trying to reason why Amelia would buy such a horrific looking birthday present for her boyfriend. Another instance that shows signs of psychosis is during a phone conversation between Amelia and her mother. As it mentions in the story, while conversing with her mother, she repeatedly looks at the doll and feels like it is glaring at her, which is unrealistic because the doll is just an object and was designed to look that way.

This delusional thought is another symptom of psychosis, feeling things that are not real but are so frightening to that person resulting in anxiousness. The phone call ends on a bad note, leaving a very confused Amelia who now has to choose between her mother and her boyfriend. Although concerned of hurting her mother’s feelings, the fact that she is a thirty-three year old woman who recently moved out of her mother’s house but her mother constantly tries to make her decisions, frustrates her.

At this point in the story, Amelia is in a state of uneasiness, worrying about the consequences of picking one over the other, aggravating her even more. Soon after the phone conversation, the significant golden chain on the doll falls off. The doll can be assumed as Amelia and the golden chain as her controlling mother and knowing the importance of the chain, which is to keep the spirit of the deadly hunter from escaping the doll, this could be an indication of a very bad omen, causing suspense amongst readers.

All the anger, confusion, and frustration that were piled up inside Amelia, triggers her psychotic behavior to a certain point, resulting in an outburst. She breaks the chain, metaphorically speaking; hence, the spirit is released, and she is finally free from her mother’s clutches. Even though the theory behind the golden chain on the doll might not be factual, her emotions and thoughts, which are no longer under control by her, force her to believe in what is not real.

This instance of her being in an incontrollable state of mind displays psychosis, and causes anxiety, as readers are curious of what events might occur due to belief of the escaped spirit. Lastly, an instance that supports the possibility of Amelia suffering from a mental illness is when she experiences hallucinations. She finds the doll has disappeared from the spot where she last left it, which is impracticable because an object cannot move by itself but her hallucinations feel so real she strongly believes that the He Who Kills, has taken his chain off and is on the run.

As Amelia is searching for it, she is distracted by a noise coming from the kitchen and when she gets there, she finds one of the knives missing but despite looking everywhere she does not find it. This causes a moment of uncertainty amongst the readers, debating whether Amelia might have misplaced the knife or whether it is missing in actual, adding to the suspense of the story. As she frantically searches for it, she sees and believes the frightening eight-inch doll is coming for her with a knife in its hand when she suddenly feels an awful stab in her ankle.

She fearfully runs all around the house accidently bumping into furniture and the wall multiple times hurting herself, trying to escape the fictional doll in her mind which is chasing her aggressively to kill her. Aggression, increased energy, bizarre actions which Amelia displays are another sign of psychosis. All the bleeding cuts and wounds she gets by running into objects are described in such gorily details really creating anxiety amongst the readers. After a long battle, Amelia finally finds a way to kill the monster, thinking she now has control over the situation.

However, it is the opposite case, her mental instability reached to a point where the spirit seized complete control of her mind and body. Amelia believes she is now the hunter and in search of her first prey she calls her mother, who is described as a very dominant figure, and contributes a lot to the frustration within her, that eventually burst out in such manner. In conclusion we can say that Richard Matheson’s “Prey” includes many components and signs of psychosis portrayed by the protagonist, Amelia, adding great anxiety to the horror of the story.

Occurrences in which she imagines the doll is glaring at her, and violently chasing her, and capturing her soul support this statement, as both Amelia and readers are in fear and anticipate a bad outcome. As mentioned before, psychosis, takes over a person’s emotions and thoughts causing them to do the peculiar things, in which under a normal state of mind they would not think of doing, resulting in a possible threat to personal order, as noticed in this story.

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