Since the seventeenth century, Punch and Judy puppet shows have been delighting and bringing joy to audiences… through stories of a mass murderer who kills his wife, child, and numerous other victims. Not exactly G-rated family entertainment, but then again, neither is Gone Girl.
British writer and philosopher Samuel Pepys even wrote upon seeing a Punch and Judy performance that the show was "very pretty, the best that I ever saw." We're not sure what provoked Sam to say that, but one thing's for sure: there's nothing pretty about a dead wife and baby. Unless, of course, you're Amy Elliott Dunne, and you're giving your husband Punch and Judy puppets for your anniversary.
The puppets carry two levels of meaning in the book. For one thing, Amy's using the gift as a way of "giving [Nick] the narrative of [his] frame-up" (32.75). In the Punch and Judy story, Punch kills his child, then murders Judy when she discovers the crime. He then goes on to encounter other obstacles, including a police officer, a doctor, a hangman, and even the devil, and similarly beats all of them to death with a club.
The tagline for the story is, "That's the way to do it," which Punch utters every time he literally gets away with murder and overpowers even law enforcement and death. The person getting away with murder in Gone Girl, though, is Amy—or Judy, instead of Punch.
Besides the obvious similarities with the story she crafts though, Amy has other reasons for picking Punch and Judy as a metaphor. Throughout his life, Nick has gotten away with a lot just because he's good looking and a mama's boy. While he didn't attempt to murder Amy or abuse her in any way, by dragging her to Missouri, distancing himself from her, and having an affair, he might as well have as far as Amy's concerned. "It's so very necessary," Amy says of her plan. "Nick must be taught a lesson. He's never been taught a lesson" (32.13). You know who else has never been taught a lesson? Punch.
The puppets, though, are also a metaphor for Amy's manipulative tactics and attempts to control people. Referring to the emotional reactions he has to Amy's letters, Nick states, "I was her puppet on a string" (31.38)—she knows exactly which strings to pull to get people to do whatever she wants. Later, when Nick and Go attempt to decipher the meaning behind the Punch and Judy puppets, he calls Amy "the puppet master" (31.50)—you only need to look at Nick, Hilary Handy, and Tommy O'Hara to see her puppetry skills at work.