Study Guide

Dark Places Guilt & Blame

By Gillian Flynn

Guilt & Blame

I was never a good little girl, and I got worse after the murders. Little Orphan Libby grew up sullen and boneless, shuffled around a group of lesser relatives […] stuck in a series of mobile homes or rotting ranch houses all across Kansas. (1.1)

Libby never cuts herself any slack for her past behavior, despite the fact that she was a minor and the victim of a gruesome crime. She is her own worst critic, blaming herself for everything.

"Don't feel sorry for Ben. He killed my family." (1.99)

Maybe Libby doesn't cut anyone any slack. She believes her brother, Ben, killed her family, and it's a while before she budges a single millimeter on this issue.

"Not fighting doesn't mean he's guilty, Libby, it means he's lost hope."

"Well, then good." (3.140-3.141)

See what we mean about not cutting anyone any slack. Complete strangers don't blame Ben for what happened twenty years ago, but Libby doesn't seem to have changed a bit since that day. She still blames Ben at this point in the story.

The truth was I didn't see anything. OK? Fine. I technically saw nothing. I only heard. I only heard because I was hiding in a closet while my family died because I was a worthless little coward. (3.152)

Wow, yeah, Libby is way harsh on herself. She may have been a "worthless little coward," but she was seven years old. Seven! What would she have done against a murdering madman, other than get herself killed if she had stayed?

I was eager to speak with an outsider who also believed that Ben was guilty. (5.11)

Libby's resolve is starting to waver. Maybe Ben didn't do it, she starts to think. Still, she can't give up just yet, so she seeks out someone else to confirm her belief that Ben is guilty.

"I've written him several letters of apology over the years, Libby. I just don't know how many times I can say I'm sorry for that damn, damn book." (5.17)

Oops. That search for confirmation didn't go well. The author of a true-crime book about Ben killing her family now believes Ben didn't do it. Barb Eichel, the author, seems to have succumbed to "Satanic panic" and rushed to blame Ben, just like everyone else did.

Blame the victim, naturally. (6.2)

Here, Libby isn't talking about herself. She has no problem blaming herself, remember? Instead, she's defending her mother's memory against those who blame Patty. Ironically, it actually was Patty's fault she and Debby were killed. But we don't think Libby really blames Patty in the end, either. What makes Patty exempt from blame?

I had a gust of panic: I can't live with this, Ben in jail, this open-ended guilt. I needed it finished. I needed to know. Me, me. I was still predictably selfish. (10.3)

At this point in the story, Libby's motivations begin to turn. She wants to find proof of Ben's innocence, but she wants to do it in order to resolve her own guilt. She thinks this is selfish, but isn't that the only thing the emotion of guilt is good for: forcing you to right wrongs?

I felt guilty about all of it, not good at all, but I feared having no money, really feared being broke, and that came before being nice. (16.1)

Libby's money issues tend to factor into almost every other aspect of her life. Here, she absolves herself of guilt for selling things by reminding herself that she needs the cash. In her world, money trumps everything. Money equals survival.

"No one ever forgives me for anything," [Krissi] whimpered, her chin shaking. I wanted to tell her I did, but I didn't. (20.81)

If you thought Libby would change into a forgiving saint of a person, um, what book are you reading? Here, Libby has the opportunity to forgive Krissi for making up a story about Ben molesting her. But she doesn't. Krissi ruined Libby's life. Was what Krissi did any different from Libby giving false testimony, though?

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