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Gone Girl: Themes & Inspirations

Instructor: Amy C. Evans

Amy has a BA/MA Criminal Justice. Worked with youth for over 20 years in academic settings. Avid reader, history and mystery lover.

''Gone Girl'', by author Gillian Flynn, is a dark and suspenseful novel. In this lesson, we will discuss the most common themes that run throughout the novel and seek to understand what inspired the author.

Author of Gone Girl: Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl was published in 2012 and in just two years made it to the big screen in a movie of the same title. Gone Girl was written by American author Gillian Flynn, who has degrees in journalism and English and previously wrote for the magazine ''Entertainment Weekly'', which gave her the opportunity to travel around the world visiting movie sets.

Gone Girl is a dark, psychologically challenging mystery with themes surrounding identity and personality formation, dysfunctional coping skills, and authenticity vs role playing. Let's look at them in detail and pinpoint what inspired Flynn to write this compelling novel.

Gone Girl Theme of Identity/Personality

Identity and personality are shaped by a combination of nature and nurture.

The main characters, Nick Dunne and his wife Amy Elliott Dunne are both shaped by their early childhoods. Nick had an emotionally distant, mentally abusive father who communicated very little with his mother, except when it was necessary. Nick describes his father as the ''...kind of man who skulked around looking for things to be angry at.'' This atmosphere of anger and hostility greatly affected Nick. He tells us ''It had turned me into a knee-jerk suckup to authority'' and ''I craved a constant stream of approval.''

Amy's parents were both child psychologists and her mother had suffered a series of miscarriages and stillbirths before successfully carrying Amy to term. Her parents idolize her as the perfect child and write a children's book series called Amazing Amy, which places additional psychological pressure on Amy to be perfect. Amy's parents were also very self-involved and placed their personal relationship above Amy's needs. Even as a child, Amy realized that she did not come first and felt the need to rectify the situation.

Theme of Dysfunctional Coping Skills

Dysfunctional coping skills can develop as a means of protecting oneself psychologically and emotionally. Sometimes, these coping skills can lead to behaviors that are harmful to self and others but yet satisfy a psychological need.

Nick's need for approval developed into dysfunctional coping skills like lying and suppression of his feelings in his effort to always appear in control and likable. Nick avoids conflict to the point of passive-aggression, trying to make the other person react so he won't look like the bad guy.

Amy developed a manipulative personality to get the attention she felt she deserved, even if it caused harm to herself and others. As a girl, she fell downstairs to set up a friend who was getting attention. She also convinced her parents that she was being stalked by another friend and an ex-boyfriend, making herself the innocent victim.

Her most ambitious bid for attention, however, is when she seeks revenge on Nick for cheating on her and not being the perfect husband. Her manipulations and lying nearly get her husband imprisoned for her murder after she fakes her disappearance and sets Nick up.

Whereas Nick uses his dysfunctional coping skills to avoid negative attention and conflict, Amy uses hers to create conflict and drama and draw attention to herself. Each wants to be seen by others as perfect.

Playing a Role Vs Authenticity

Playing a role as opposed to being your authentic self can result in unpleasant consequences when the real you, the person you are trying to hide, asserts itself.

Nick plays the role of a loving husband and all-around good guy. However, when Amy begins to reveal more of her real personality, he responds by withdrawing his good-guy persona, at least while in private. Nick's need for positive attention intensifies as Amy's criticisms of her husband's behavior increases. After both lose their jobs due to the economic environment, being together all the time makes it more difficult to pretend.

Nick and Amy begin to treat each other as antagonists, as each becomes more like themselves and less like the people they pretend to be. The rift results in Nick cheating on Amy, hoping it will force her to divorce him without him coming off as a bad guy and Amy taking brutal revenge on Nick by faking her disappearance and possible murder and pinning it on Nick.

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