Study Guide

Big Little Lies Violence

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Her ankle turned. One second it was doing what an ankle was meant to do, and the next it was flipping out at a sickeningly wrong angle. She fell heavily on one side. Oh, calamity.

That was almost certainly the moment the story began. With the ungainly flip of an ankle. (2.27)

Violence starts off the story; as soon as we meet Madeline, she experiences a painful accident. It's this experience that actually brings her into contact with Jane and sets the events of the story into motion.

“It wasn’t an accident, for heaven’s sake,” snapped Renata. Her face was aflame with righteous rage. “Someone tried to choke her. I can see marks on her neck. I think she’s going to have bruises.” (6.37)

Renata is seeing red: her child has been exposed to violence in the seemingly safe space of kindergarten.

She’d once been appalled to hear of women claiming PMS as a defense for murder. Now she understood. She could happily murder someone today! In fact, she felt like there should be some sort of recognition for her remarkable strength of character that she didn’t. (18.3)

A moment of levity: Madeline, who's not exactly chill even on her best days, is PMSing like crazy, and her mood has her contemplating going full Imperator Furiosa on everything that stands in her way.

She went to walk past him. He grabbed her upper arm. His fingers dug into the flesh.

“Hey,” she said. “That hurts.”

It was part of the game that her initial reaction was always one of outrage and surprise, as if this had never happened before, as if he maybe didn’t know what he was doing.

He gripped harder.

“Don’t,” she said. “Perry. Just don’t.” (22.18)

This is how the violence with Perry starts. What makes his actions especially sadistic is that he seems to play-act his own innocence; he repeatedly acts as if he is a first-time offender.

She could feel the hard clamp of his hands.

“It’s fun. You’ll like it. It’s a rush. Like cocaine.”

“No,” she said. She grabbed at his hands to try to stop him. She could never bear the thought of not being able to breathe. She didn’t even like swimming underwater.

He squeezed. His eyes were on hers. He grinned, as if he were tickling, not choking her.

He let go.

“I don’t like that!” she gasped. (31.19)

Jane is assaulted by her date. He utilizes two kinds of violence—first he physically harms her by choking her without her consent.

He positioned her underneath him and shoved himself inside her as if he were operating some sort of basic machinery, and as he moved, he put his mouth close to her ear and he said things: an endless stream of casual cruelty that slid straight into her head and curled up, wormlike, in her brain.

“You’re just a fat ugly little girl, aren’t you? With your cheap jewelry and your trashy dress. Your breath is disgusting, by the way. Need to learn some dental hygiene. Jesus. Never had an original thought in your life, have you? Want a tip? You’ve got to respect yourself a bit more. Lose that weight. Join a gym, for f***’s sake. Stop the junk food. You’ll never be beautiful, but at least you won’t be fat.” (31.21)

Jane is being raped—she no longer wants to be having sex with "Saxon Banks" but he continues, pinning her underneath him so she's immobilized. He also verbally assaults her, degrading her with vicious insults.

Jane shook her head as if she’d been given something she didn’t deserve. “Well. It’s not like I got raped in an alleyway. I have to take responsibility. It wasn’t that big a deal.”

“He assaulted you! He—” (31.4)

Madeline is right. Although Jane didn't get "raped in an alleyway," she was still raped. It is 100% a big, fat, deadly serious deal.

“Yes,” said Celeste. “As I said, occasionally he, we become physically…violent.” Her posh voice was back. “But as I tried to explain, I have to take my share of the blame.”

“No one deserves to be abused, Mrs. White,” said Susi.”(33.15)

Susi deserves a big ol' raise: she's a great domestic abuse counselor. Celeste is trying to shoulder the blame for her own assaults, and Susi ain't having any of it.

Jane stood up from the turtle and kicked at the sand with her boot, just barely managing to stop herself from kicking it in Harper’s face. “Don’t you dare talk about my son!”

“Don’t you kick me!” yelled Harper.

“I didn’t kick you!” yelled back Jane, surprising herself with the volume of her voice. (50.23)

Although Jane does not kick uptight Renata groupie Harper, Harper accuses her of violence. This makes Jane flip out: first her son is accused of violence he didn't commit, and now she's being accused as well.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m so sorry.”

But she mustn’t have said it right, because he stepped forward slowly and took her face in his hands the way he did when he was about to tenderly kiss her.

“Not good enough,” he said, and he slammed her head against the wall.

The cold deliberateness of it was as shocking and surreal as the first time he’d hit her. The pain felt intensely personal, like a broken heart. (54.14)

This is one of the most violent scenes in the book. Perry nearly kills Celeste. The domestic violence in the White house is escalating, and Celeste realizes she needs to leave…or die at Perry's hands.

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