Study Guide

Big Little Lies Lies and Deceit

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Lies and Deceit

"Call an ambulance!" barked Ed.

"Yes," said Renata. "I am. I will. But um…I didn't see what happened. I didn't see him fall." (77. 9)

We did not see this coming. In this moment, super unlikely ally Renata decides that she is going to lie under oath rather than condemn Bonnie to manslaughter charges.

"Tell. For God's sake." Ed rolled his eyes. "This isn't snitching to the teacher! This is breaking the law. This is lying under…[…]" (78.3)

Ed trails off before he can say the word "oath." Ed is a dependable moral compass in this book; his ideas generally point the way of true moral North. Here, he expresses reluctance about lying to the police. Maybe, because, um, lying to the police is a terrible idea.

Maybe it was actually an unspoken instant agreement between the four women on the balcony: No woman should pay for the accidental death of that particular man. Maybe it was an involuntary, atavistic response to thousands of years of violence against women. Maybe it was for every rape, every brutal backhanded slap, every other Perry that had come before this one. (78.18)

The "unspoken agreement" here is the decision to say, "I didn’t see what happened" when questioned about the death of Perry White. It's more than just a lie to cover up an act of involuntary manslaughter; it's about protecting women who have been victimized for way too long.

"I would have lied for you," said Celeste. "I can lie."

"I know you can." Bonnie's eyes were bright. "I think you're probably very good at it too."

She stepped forward and put her hand on Celeste's arm. "But you can stop now." (80.13)

Bonnie knows all about the lying brought on by being in proximity to abuse. It's a nasty, nasty spiral where shame leads to lying leads to shame leads to lying leads to…nowhere good. Time to kill that spiral dead, and free everyone involved in the process.

Bonnie is telling the truth. (81.1)

With this text message, Celeste lets Madeline and Ed off the hook. Now that Bonnie's telling the truth, they (thankfully!) don't have to commit perjury and claim to the police that they didn't see Perry's death. Because here's the thing: both Madeline and Ed were perfectly willing to commit the capital-C Crime of lying to the police so Bonnie wouldn't be blamed for Perry's death.

I don't know if you remember this, but last year at kindergarten orientation day I was not very nice to you. I believed that you had hurt my daughter and I now know that this was not true. (81.5)

Renata is seriously surprising: she spends most of the novel being portrayed as the Wicked Witch of Pirriwee, but she turns out to be strong, fair, and loyal. Evidence of this comes when she writes a letter to five-year-old Ziggy, apologizing for telling everyone he was a bully when he definitely wasn't. Renata realizes she told a lie…even if she thought it was the truth at the time.

"When these incidents take place, have you ever been afraid?"

"Well, no. Well, sort of." She could see the point that Susi was trying to make. "Look, I know how violent some men can be, but with Perry and me it's not that bad. It's bad! I know it's bad. I'm not delusional. But, see, I've never ended up in the hospital or anything like that." (33.14)

Lying ain't just when you spew falsehoods to other people. You can also be 100% guilty of lying to yourself. Here, Celeste doesn't want to admit that the abuse she experiences is as "bad" or as "violent" as other instances of abuse. She's lying to herself because she doesn't want to realize the full severity of her situation.

"Have you ever been afraid that you might die?"

"Absolutely not," said Celeste immediately.

She stopped.

"Well, just once. It was just that my face…he had my face pressed into a corner of the couch." (33.15)

We gotta say...Susi is a great counselor. Within one session, Celeste has started to question some of the lies she has been telling herself—namely, that Perry isn't so violent and that the domestic abuse she experiences isn't so bad.

"That's a nasty bruise!" said Gwen. "What have you done to yourself?"

Celeste pulled the sleeve of her silk shirt further down her wrist.

"Tennis injury," she said. (42.3)

Ah, the old "tennis injury" line. Celeste doesn't just lie to herself about Perry's abuse; she also has to lie to other people when they notice the evidence of it. And as Perry gets more abusive, the evidence gets more and more apparent…

Gabrielle: Next thing I hear, Harper is accusing Jane of assaulting her in Turtle Corner, which seems unlikely. (51.1)

Toxic BFFs: gossip and lies. Pirriwee is a tiny community, and gossip spreads like wildfire. A whole lot of the drama in Big Little Lies is instigated through the spread of gossip—more specifically, through the spread of deceitful gossip.

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