Study Guide

Beautiful Creatures Themes

By Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

  • Love

    Beautiful Creatures is your classic story of star-crossed lovers who weren't meant to be. Think Romeo and Juliet, Edward and Bella, The Bachelor and his new ladyfriend… wait, scratch that last one. On the surface, Ethan and Lena seem to be made for each other—they're dreaming about each other before they even meet, for crying out loud. Plus, they find each other attractive, intelligent, and funny to boot. Unfortunately, because of the Powers That Be (not just over-protective parents in this case), they're forbidden from being together—a relationship between Mortals and Casters just doesn't fly.

    Isn't that always the case with star-crossed lovers? That pesky fate stuff is always keeping them apart, whether it's with prophecies, parents, or a combination of the two. But here's something else that never changes: two people in love won't ever let fate control their hearts.

    Questions About Love

    1. Does Ethan love Lena for who she is (you know, her personality and stuff) or for what she is (the magical girl of his dreams, quite literally)?
    2. Ethan feels many intense physical sensations when he touches Lena—heat, electricity, chills, oh my! Which are the result of love, and which are because of her Caster powers?
    3. Macon says that Ethan "makes [Lena] weak, and that makes him dangerous" (2.11[1].204). Do you agree? Can love weaken a person? In what ways?
    4. Mortals and Casters can never be together (so say the Powers That Be). What are the immediate consequences of Lena and Ethan's relationship?

    Chew on This

    Ethan is drawn to Lena only because she's so different than all the other girls. And hey, we always want what we can't have.

    Until Ethan and Lena know how her powers affect him, they need to be really, really careful with the whole boyfriend-girlfriend situation.

  • The Supernatural

    Ethan tends to observe things pretty casually. Things that would make us go "holy Incubus, Batman!" barely seem to rouse him. When Larkin transforms his arm into a snake, Ethan brushes it off as though it's an everyday occurrence. Um…? Regardless of how he reacts, almost everything in Gatlin—especially Lena and Ethan's relationship—has an element of the supernatural mixed in. Part of the fun of reading Beautiful Creatures comes from trying to separate magic from reality.

    Questions About The Supernatural

    1. Which electric sensations that Ethan experiences do you think are the result of love and which are the result of something supernatural?
    2. Why doesn't all this magic freak out Ethan? Seriously, Ethan—get freaked out!
    3. Amma makes a bit of side money reading cards for Gatlin residents in the swamp. Why do you think people seem to tolerate her magic but are afraid of Lena and her family?
    4. Do you think the different Casters' powers line up with their personalities? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    Ethan is unfazed by Lena's magical family because he grew up with it himself. He has always lived with Amma's brand of magic and his mother telling him about the magical world within books.

    Lena says she can't control her powers, but she's conveniently able to use them to her advantage as the novel progresses.

  • Fate and Free Will

    It's hard enough feeling like your parents dictate everything you do. But what if a power you couldn't even see wasn't just deciding how you were going to spend your Friday night, but how you were going to live the rest of your life? That's what Lena's up against in Beautiful Creatures. Because of a decision made by Genevieve, her great-to-the-power-of-four grandmother, Lena's life is pretty much predetermined. And not even by a person, but by a dusty old book, The Book of Moons. Screaming "I hate you! You ruined my life!" to a book would just be silly. How can you vent all that frustration? Wouldn't you want to break a few windows too?

    Questions About Fate and Free Will

    1. Macon says the following about all humanity (that means you, too): "You think you can change things. Stop the universe. Undo what was done long before you came along. You are such beautiful creatures" (2.04.83). He says he envies us, but it almost sounds like pity. What do you think?
    2. At times Lena seems resigned to her fate. At others, she wants to fight it. What compels her to fight against her fate?
    3. Ethan was dreaming of Lena before he even met her. Is this fate preparing him for what's to come? What's the point of these stinkin' dreams?
    4. Hardly anyone in Beautiful Creatures believes in coincidences—to them, it's all fate. Do you think there are any plain old coincidences in the book?

    Chew on This

    If Lena and the Casters believe that fate cannot be changed, they might as well just stop trying.

    It's really all Genevieve's fault. If she hadn't tried to resurrect Ethan Carter, none of this would be happening.

  • Lies and Deceit

    Gatlin must be Southern for "great big honkin' ball of falsehood." All the major characters flat out lie at least once (usually more) throughout Beautiful Creatures, and all the townsfolk have at least one skeleton in their closet. (We haven't discovered a literal skeleton yet, but we wouldn't be surprised.) Sure, they all have their reasons, but it's usually not healthy to keep secrets—secrets weigh you down. Telling the truth is like giving a Slim-Fast to your soul. Maybe we should spike the Gatlin water with some.

    Questions About Lies and Deceit

    1. Macon lies to Lena, telling her that her mother is dead. He says he is doing it to protect her. If you were in Macon's (impeccably shined) shoes, what would you do?
    2. Does all the lying in the book lead to more harm than good? Why or why not?
    3. Even the Mortal townsfolk of Gatlin have their secrets, many of which are exposed by Macon at the town meeting in 12.16, When the Saints go Marching In. Why do small towns have such a reputation for dirty secrets? How would things be different if Beautiful Creatures took place in a big city?

    Chew on This

    Of course the Casters are good liars—they've been keeping secrets about their powers for their entire lives.

    Secrets, secrets, are no fun; secrets, secrets hurt someone. Macon's deceiving Lena almost costs her her life, and in the end, he loses his own.

  • Freedom and Confinement

    Gatlin could never be mistaken for a cultural center. This little town might have phones and boats (er, little rafts made of sticks to navigate alligator-filled swamps) and motor cars, but not a single other luxury. No Starbucks, no movie theater, no Shmoop headquarters. No wonder Ethan feels stuck—where will he get his tall soy latte? Throughout Beautiful Creatures, our guy dreams of escape, marking places he reads about on a map. And Lena might just be his ticket out of town. What is it about living in a small town that makes you want to get out and see the world? Regardless of where you're from, have you ever felt that way?

    Questions About Freedom and Confinement

    1. Ethan says that there are only two kinds of people in Gatlin: "The stupid and the stuck" (Before.1). Our guy doesn't think he falls into either of those categories. What do you think?
    2. Why would anyone choose to stay in Gatlin? What keeps them there?
    3. Do you think Ethan or Link will ever leave Gatlin?
    4. In what ways does history repeat itself in the novel? Are the characters confined by history or can they make choices that will allow them to break out?

    Chew on This

    Ethan feels trapped in Gatlin and Lena's moved around her whole life. They should both stop complaining and realize that the grass is always greener on the other side.

    Ethan and Lena are trapped by history, doomed to repeat the mistakes of their ancestors.

  • Family

    Gothic families range from the morbid depravity of The Castle of Otranto to the whimsical comedy of The Addams Family. The family units on display in Beautiful Creatures lie somewhere in between. We've got magic and ghosts, sure, but we've also got loneliness, dysfunction, and death. Lena's and Ethan's families have been intertwined for over a century, and the feelings aren't exactly warm and fuzzy. If Ethan ever marries Lena, he's going to get the mother-in-law from Hell (literally) in the bargain. You think your holiday dinners are tense? At least people aren't throwing dishes and utensils at each other… without even lifting a finger.

    Questions About Family

    1. What defines a family in Beautiful Creatures?
    2. Families protect each other, even under extreme circumstances (like, say, turning into a being of pure evil). What are the consequences of unconditional love? What in Beautiful Creatures makes you say this?
    3. Does Lena put a disproportionate amount of pressure on Uncle Macon by considering him the only person she can rely on? What about her grandma, whom she lived with for years?

    Chew on This

    With a family like Lena's, who needs enemies?

    If Genevieve had succeeded in resurrecting Ethan Carter, our narrator and Lena might be related. So that's gross.

  • Death

    Given that it's written for young adults, there sure is a lot of death in Beautiful Creatures. Let's see... dead people. First, there are those we care about. (Aside from all the evil mumbo-jumbo, Genevieve and Ethan Carter might have been a sweet couple). Then there are those we wish would come back. (Ethan's mom loved books. We'd love to get to know her better.) And finally there are those we wish would have just stayed dead, but—spoiler alert—they didn't. (Ahem, Sarafine.) Plus, we have that sucker-punch of a death at the end that Lena's going to have to deal with. What's that? No, that's not a tear. We must just have dust in our eye.

    All of these different versions of death make it tough to look at mortality from just one angle. How do the living characters in Beautiful Creatures react to death, and what can we learn from them?

    Questions About Death

    • Do you sympathize with Ethan's father and his inability to manage his grief?
    • Is Ethan actually receiving help from his mother's ghost?
    • Would Ethan be able to come to terms with his mother's death if this mysterious helpful ghost wasn't around?
    • How will Lena handle Macon's death?

    Chew on This

    Lena would have been much happier if her mother had just stayed dead.

    Both Ethan and his dad have their own flavors of denial in regards to Ethan's mom's death.

  • Society and Class

    In some ways, Stonewall Jackson High is no different than the rest of the planet—it's full of societal pressures. Unfortunately, these boundaries don't stop after graduation. The cliques in Gatlin don't change—they just get older. Mrs. Lincoln and her Daughters of the American Revolution posse are just as conniving and backstabbing as their children, and Macon is even more of an outcast than Lena. Magic or not, this Beautiful Creatures town has some major healing to do.

    Questions About Society and Class

    1. Many students shun Lena even before Sarafine/Mrs. Lincoln begins her campaign to expel her. Why are they so afraid of Lena?
    2. Would Mrs. Lincoln have behaved any differently if she weren't possessed by Sarafine?
    3. In what ways is Ethan the same as the narrow-minded residents of Gatlin?
    4. Everyone gets along at Lena's surprise party, but it's probably due to Ridley's influence. Will all the goodwill last?

    Chew on This

    Link manages to play both sides of the line, being friends with Ethan and Lena while maintaining his ties to the cheerleaders and basketball players.

    Macon doesn't make any effort to assimilate into Gatlin society. It's his own fault he's an outcast.

  • Good vs. Evil

    You might think you can replace Light and Dark with Good and Evil and call it a day. After all, the Dark Casters seem to cause most of the trouble, while the Light Casters are always fighting against it. But Beautiful Creatures makes it a little more complicated than that. For one thing, there's Macon. He's a Dark creature, a Lilum. Born to be evil, right? But he fights against his nature every day. Then there's Ridley, who doesn't seem 100% bad. And if she isn't all evil, who's to say that Sarafine, Larkin, or any other Dark Caster doesn't have a good streak, too? Are good and evil ever really that black and white?

    Questions About Good vs. Evil

    1. If Lena were Claimed by The Book of Moons, would she have gone Dark or Light? What makes you say that?
    2. Is Ridley all bad? Did your opinion of her change throughout the course of the book?
    3. Which characters choose to be good or evil, and which were just born that way?

    Chew on This

    Lena's two differently colored eyes at the close of the novel symbolize a combination of Light and Dark.

    Macon was born a Dark creature, but he is purely good.