Study Guide

Big Little Lies Themes

By Liane Moriarty

  • Lies and Deceit

    We know that the fact that "Lies and Deceit" is a big theme in a book called Big Little Lies is…less than shocking.

    This book is crawling with lies and the liars that spread them. We see the whole spectrum—from lies designed to save other people and protect loved ones to delusional, personal lies designed to help people cope with their own trauma to lies spread unknowingly via the all-powerful Pirriwee rumor mill.

    Big Little Lies doesn't let us forget one simple fact: pretty much all of us lie. If not to other people, than definitely to ourselves.

    Questions About Lies and Deceit

    1. Why does Bonnie decide to confess in full? 
    2. What reasons does Celeste have to deceive herself about the extent of Perry's abuse?
    3. Is the size of Pirriwee conducive to the spread of rumors? Do rumor mills flourish in some places more than others?
    4. We access the world of Pirriwee through predominantly female characters. What are the male characters lying about?

    Chew on This

    Madeline is the most truthful character in the book, and that is why she is seen as confrontational.

    The stark class divisions in Pirriwee help make it a hotbed of lies and deceit because the lower classes are being oppressed.

  • Sex

    Pirriwee is a hotbed of rumors—and you'd better believe a lot of those rumors have to do with doing it.

    Whether the town gossips are talking about the impact of the new French nanny, the love lives of wealthy Pirriwee Public parents, or who looks best dressed up like Audrey or Elvis, sex is on everyone's minds.

    But a lot of the sex that Big Little Lies covers is marred by the ugliness of violence. Celeste's life is full of sex that comes on the heels of assault, and Jane is only beginning to recover from the trauma of a rape that occurred years prior. This book asks us repeatedly to ponder the ways that violence can shadow a sex life.

    Questions About Sex

    1. What are the reasons for Jane's sexual rehabilitation over the course of this novel? 
    2. Are any of the lies in Big Little lies about sex? 
    3. How is the childhood bullying in this novel a reflection of sexual assault? 
    4. In what way does the character of Madeline sexually evolve over the course of the novel?

    Chew on This

    Big Little Lies portrays sex and sexuality as forces that are often tinged with darkness.

    Big Little Lies show us that sex is, in many ways, the opposite of violence.

  • Family

    Big Little Lies is about the many, many different kinds of families. There are single moms, like Jane, who stays in close contact with her own mom and dad. There are traditional nuclear families, like Celeste's, whose twins are the product of a whole lot of trying, wishing, and hoping. And there are sprawling blended families, like Madeline's, where stepdads clash with stepdaughters and ex-husband's new wives are viewed as enemies…before being accepted as part of the fam.

    The only thing that these families have in common? They're all complicated and drama-filled. Tolstoy was right: unhappy families are unhappy in their own, distinct ways.

    Questions About Family

    1. Why does Madeline envy Jane's family? 
    2. Why is Celeste so shocked about the revelation about Saxon Banks?
    3. How does Madeline's family unit become stronger over the course of the novel?
    4. What led to Jane's decision to move away from her own mother and father?

    Chew on This

    Friends are portrayed as a kind of family in Big Little Lies. 

    Big Little Lies makes one thing clear: no bond is as strong as that between family members.

  • Marriage

    The phrase "and they lived happily ever after" doesn't quite work in the context of Big Little Lies.

    Take Madeline. Her first husband ran out on her and a weeks-old baby to go kick it on a beach in Bali. Her second husband Ed is amazing, but it would be a big little lie to say that they were 100% happy 100% of the time.

    Or take Renata. She's one half of a Pirriwee power couple, until it’s revealed that her hubby is having an affair with the nappy. (How cliché.)

    And, of course, there's Celeste. She married a handsome, super-rich guy that she was head over heels in love with…only to find out that he's a psychopath with a violent streak.

    Yeah. Wedding bells do not equal everlasting happiness.

    Questions About Marriage

    1. Does this novel show marriage as a positive institution? 
    2. How do Madeline and Ed compliment each other?
    3. What are the reasons that Celeste stays in her marriage?
    4. Why does Renata's marriage dissolve?

    Chew on This

    Big Little Lies portrays the bond of co-parenting as stronger than marriage.

    In Big Little Lies, marriage is portrayed as being old-fashioned and obsolete.

  • Friendship

    Big Little Lies knows the importance of finding BFFs. Although Jane, Madeline, and Celeste are very different people—with different interests, hobbies, careers, and backgrounds—they're bound together.

    This has a bit to do with the fact that they're raising kids that are approximately the same age, a bit to do with the fact that they like talking trash about the Blond Bobs, and a bit because they're all just kind, funny, interesting women. But their friendship isn't portrayed as 100% roses and sunshine: they feel envy, frustration, and annoyance with each other. Sometimes they disagree.

    But in the end, they have each other's backs. Because that's what friends are for.

    Questions About Friendship

    1. Why is Celeste jealous of Jane? 
    2. Does the ending of the novel suggest that the three main characters will become friends with Bonnie?
    3. Why does Madeline start the "Erotic Book Club"? 
    4. How do the three central friendships change over the course of the novel?

    Chew on This

    Big Little Lies portrays friendship as being as bonding as marriage.

    The friendships in Big Little Lies are formed almost exclusively by proximity; these women have nothing in common with each other.

  • Violence

    We're going to get real for a second: Big Little Lies is full of horrific violence. No, there's no blood or spilling guts, but there are instances of vivid physical and verbal abuse.

    The violence in this novel is a family affair, passed on from father to son. A young kid can learn to hurt and humiliate just as easily as they can learn to read or play soccer—if one parent is abusive, there's a far higher chance that the child will be as well.

    But it's not all darkness and despair in Big Little Lies. The characters who confront violence and grapple with its impact, both physical and psychological, learn to heal and cope with their histories of trauma.

    Questions About Violence

    1. Why did Max become violent, but not Josh? 
    2. What excuses did Perry give for his violence?
    3. Why did Celeste consider the actions of Saxon Banks to be more damaging than Perry's? 
    4. Why is Bonnie so furious with Perry?

    Chew on This

    Big Little Lies suggests that psychological violence can be even more damaging than physical violence.

    Big Little Lies suggests that abusers cannot be rehabilitated.

  • Women and Femininity

    "Women" had better be a theme in Big Little Lies—the three protagonists and most of the supporting characters are all ladeez.

    But this novel is especially women-centric because it's a meditation on female friendship and motherhood. Madeline, Celeste, and Jane are three very different women brought together by chance and proximity. They soon become close friends, bound to each other, in part, because they're all navigating the trenches of motherhood together.

    When we gain access to the women's interiority, we see a ton of female-coded problems: issues with identity, presentation, aging, and the threat of violence. They're complex, multi-faceted individuals who consider the implications of being female in a world that still—somehow!— undervalues women.

    Questions About Women and Femininity

    1. Could Big Little Lies be gender-swapped? How would that impact the story? 
    2. Does Madeline experience violence in the same gendered way as Celeste and Jane?
    3. How have the women defined themselves as mothers?
    4. What are the particular challenges Madeline faces in raising daughters?

    Chew on This

    Big Little Lies shows that female friendships become stronger when faced with adversity.

    Madeline is undervalued because she presents as hyper-feminine.

  • Youth

    Shocker, we know: a novel set in the orbit of a kindergarten has something to do with youth.

    It's not just the five-years-olds whose youth is of note in Big Little Lies, however. Jane's youth is notable because she's so mature. Abigail's youth is notable because she, um, thinks she's so mature. Madeline mourns her lost youth, and Celeste is deeply concerned about making the wrong impression on her young sons.

    At the end of the novel, everyone is a little older and a little wiser.

    Questions About Youth

    1. Does Big Little Lies portray aging as tragic? 
    2. What mistakes does Abigail make because of her youth?
    3. Why is Madeline so threatened by Bonnie's youth?

    Chew on This

    Big Little Lies shows children as being fundamentally innocent.

    Big Little Lies makes no connection between youth and innocence.