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Matheson’s “Mad House” tells the story of Chris Neal, a man who once dreamt of becoming a distinguished author. However, he failed in this dream and has instead grown into a miserable person with an uncontrollable temper. This temper slowly destroys his life, as it drives his wife to leave him, causes him to lose his job after a breakdown, and eventually, his rage seeps into the walls of his house and kills him. Through Matheson’s graphic and darkly comical portrayal of Chris Neal’s decline into madness and eventual death due to his worsening temper, Matheson warns the reader of the self-destructive nature of anger. 


Matheson immediately presents Neal’s temper to the reader in the opening of the story. He has an angry outburst after unsuccessfully attempting to complete a set of simple tasks, and then has a breakdown while reflecting on his excessive temper. Matheson employs these scenes to advance how the reader views anger. Firstly, he allows the reader to sympathize with Neal. Becoming angry at misfortune and failure are normal emotions. Presenting Neal as these raw emotions can allow the reader to see themselves in Neal, and relate their life to his struggles. However, his reaction quickly progresses beyond the limits of the average person. It is through this excessive rage that Matheson begins his critique on the nature of anger. Matheson asserts that anger, especially without regard for others, is a selfish and immature reaction. This is reflected in Neal’s dramatic response to his slight inconveniences. He acts with no regard for others, and even accidentally strikes his wife with a knife during his fit. It is through these excessive fits of rage that Neal begins to destroy his relationships with others, and therefore his own life along the way.


Neal’s destructive temper is most clearly seen in his declining relationship with his wife Sally. While Neal represents anger and resentment, Sally represents the hope that couple once possessed. However, Neal’s anger has slowly dwindled the hope held by Sally. This decline is represented in her use of coffee and cigarettes. While neither of them smoked or drank coffee before the marriage, Neal started during his decline and has influenced Sally to partake in copious amounts of both. When Sally begins packing her bags to leave after Neal accidentally strikes her with a knife during an angry outburst, he doesn’t apologize for his wrongdoings. Instead, he uses the situation to fuel his anger. This represents a turning point in the story, as Neal chooses hate over love. He has completely given up on the hope that he once possessed and the person that cared for him the most. When leaving for work shortly after, he finds that there is a hole in his suit jacket. This hole represents the lack of hope in Neal’s life, with the departure of Sally.


As the story progresses, Neal continues to choose hate over love until all he has left is anger. When Neal goes to work, he further feeds into anger by rejecting the advice of a friend and letting out another fit of rage directed at his superior. When he returns home, he is now at his highest point of rage, and this rage leads to his death. Matheson uses the science fiction concept of Psychobolie to connect Neal’s rage and his death. Physicist Dr. Pallikari summarizes psychobolie as the theory that “the soul emanates a substance which impregnates objects or affects the minds of other people after leaving the body, thus influencing their physical or mental state.” (196). Neal’s excess of anger is transferred to the objects in his house, which causes them to come to life and attack him. Neal’s rage leading to his death represents Matheson’s beliefs on the nature of anger. Neal’s anger started as a small discontent, but has grown into an all-consuming emotion. Matheson shows that anger can sneak up on an individual, and grow exponentially into despair if left unchecked. The theme of choosing hate over hope is again represented in the irony of the house being what ultimately kills Neal. The purchase of a home is commonly seen as a symbol of joy and hope in a person’s life. It represents settling down and the creation of a family. However, with the departure of Sally, the house no longer represents hope as it once did for the young couple. Instead, the house is only filled with the hate of Neal, and this is seen in Neal’s freightening murder. 


In Matheson’s “Mad house” Chris Neal lives an underwhelming life, especially in contrast to the life he envisioned for himself in the past. Although Neal’s shortcoming may be somewhat out of his control, his actions are within his control, and these actions ultimately lead to his despise. Neal consistently chooses to succumb to his rage, and therefore chooses to feed into hate instead of appreciating the hope present in his life. It is through this story of  Neal’s decline into insanity that Matheson warns the reader to avoid the self-destructive nature of anger. Although it can be easy to succumb to the temptations of anger, it is ultimately useless, as its ramifications outweigh the relief it provides.


Works Cited

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Matheson, Richard.  “Mad House.”  Sakai, ENGL 105.091.FA20 , posted by Paul Blom, 31 July

  1. Originally published in Fantastic, 1953. 

Pallikari, Fotini. “Angelos Tanagras, the Oslo International Parapsychology Congress and the telekinesis of Cleio.” Journal for the Society of Psychical Research, vol. 73, no. 4, Jan. 2009, pp. 193-206.

“Smoking 05 / Free Stock Footage.” Youtube, uploaded by Greenlight Stock Footage, 6 Dec. 2017,

Villeneuve, Denis. “Prisoners 2013 Jake Gyllenhaal rage scene.” Youtube, uploaded by Sandra Paukstaityte, 26 Nov. 2013,


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