Study Guide

Gone Girl Literature and Writing

By Gillian Flynn

Literature and Writing

I like a writer party, I like writers, I am the child of writers, I am a writer. I still love scribbling that word—WRITER—anytime a form, questionnaire, document, asks for my occupation. Fine, I write personality quizzes. I don't write about Great Issues of the Day, but I think it's fair to say that I am a writer. (2.2)

One thing Gone Girl basically hammers us with from the beginning is how deeply writing is ingrained in Nick and Amy's identities. In the first chapter, we learn that Nick grieves the loss of his magazine writing job, while in this, the first of Amy's diary entries, we see her literally define "writer" as her identity. The fact that both characters find their sense of self in their jobs rather than their marriage is probably a major cause of their relationship's downfall.

He talks to me in his river-wavy Missouri accent; he was born and raised outside of Hannibal, the boyhood home of Mark Twain, the inspiration for Tom Sawyer. He tells me he worked on a steamboat when he was a teenager, dinner and jazz for the tourists. (2.17)

Writing isn't only part of Nick's identity in terms of his former career in New York—it's also woven into the fabric of his heritage. He grew up surrounded by the legendary presence of Mark Twain, played Tom Sawyer at the Hannibal tourist sites, and frequently references the writer's role in his past.

Just last night was my parents' book party. Amazing Amy and the Big Day. Yup, Rand and Marybeth couldn't resist. They've given their daughter's namesake what they can't give their daughter: a husband! Yes, for book twenty, Amazing Amy is getting married! Wheeeeeee. No one cares. Leave her in kneesocks and hair ribbons and let me grow up, unencumbered by my literary alter ego, my paper-bound better half, the me I was supposed to be. (4.7)

Not only is Amy a writer who is the daughter of writers, but she is actually a living, breathing fictional character. Her parents' Amazing Amy books, while the source of her privileged upbringing, also did serious damage to her sense of self. Amazing Amy is the embodiment of her every failure to be the daughter her parents wanted her to be, and is the beginning of Gone Girl's theme of how damaging the fictional personalities we create for ourselves can be.

"One time I was walking down the street and [Hilary Handy] came up to me, this strange girl, and she looped her arm through mine and said, 'I'm going to be your daughter now. I'm going to kill Amy and be your new Amy. Because it doesn't really matter to you, does it? As long as you have an Amy.' Like our daughter was a piece of fiction she could rewrite." (11.121)

While she's not aware of it, this statement by Marybeth Elliot is actually super ironic: Amy is a piece of fiction and she's constantly rewriting herself. She's Amazing Amy, Cool Amy, Avenging Amy. And while she claims that Real Amy is pretty awesome, we think there's a possibility that she may not even totally know who Real Amy is. There are so many different versions of Amy that she might as well not even be real. Which, of course, she isn't, but you know what we mean.

The "little brown house" story was about my father, and Amy is the only person I'd ever told it to: that after the divorce, I saw him so seldom that I decided to think of him as a character in a storybook. He was not my actual father—who would have loved me and spent time with me – but a benevolent and vaguely important figure named Mr. Brown, who was very busy doing very important things for the United States and who (very) occasionally used me as a cover to move more easily about town. (17.121)

While rewriting reality is a way of life for Amy, it's also a defense mechanism Nick commonly resorts to as a way of ignoring things that are too painful for him to fully process. In this case, his childhood fantasy of his father being an important government man who loved him but couldn't be there for him is less painful than the truth: that his real father is mentally and verbally abuse and drove his mother away from him.

She liked to discuss Amy, as if Amy were the heroine on a nighttime soap opera. Andie never made Amy the enemy; she made her a character. She asked questions, all the time, about our life together, about Amy […]. It was Andie's favorite bedtime story: Amy. (19.24)

Andie's fascination with the wife of the man she's sleeping with is kind of creepy, but it provides yet another example of Amy's unreality. On top of her multiple personalities, she's a character in Andie's childlike imaginings of her.

On my list was Write Diary Entries for 2005 to 2012. Seven years of diary entries, not every day, but twice monthly, at least […] I'd pour some coffee or open up a bottle of wine, pick one of my thirty-two pens, and rewrite my life a little. (32.21)

The writing theme is so tightly woven into this story that it even becomes a part of Amy's plot to get revenge on Nick. Her dedication to crafting seven years' worth of diary entries not only gives her the chance to draft evidence that will condemn him, but allows her to "rewrite" events to make herself the heroine.

The screen cuts to another photo of me juxtaposed with Amazing Amy.

Greta turns to me. "You remember those books?"

"Of course!"

"You like those books?"

"Everyone likes those books, they're so cute," I say.

Greta snorts. "They're so fake."

Close-up of me. (36.74-80)

Burn—Greta's totally unimpressed with Amazing Amy, and Amy's offended by her lack of worship of her fictional counterpart. The biggest sting of that comment is that Greta can unknowingly see through the veneer of perfection Amy's parents tried to project through the books: Amazing Amy really is too good to be true.

I have a book deal: I am officially in control of our story. It feels wonderfully symbolic. (60.5)

Close to the end of the book, words again become weapons when Amy and Nick start writing dueling memoirs, each accusing the other of being the bad guy as they battle it out to see whose version will stand as historic record. Amy's later demand that Nick delete his manuscript is the ultimate deathblow to Nick's attempt to outdo her—it truly leaves her "in control" of the twisted story they've written.

At last I'm the hero. I am the one to root for in the never-ending war story of our marriage. It's a story I can live with. Hell, at this point, I can't imagine my story without Amy. She is my forever antagonist.

We are one long frightening climax. (63.40-41)

Nick really brings the theme of writing's power to shape relationships and events in his final lines of the book. Drawing on his knowledge of story structure from hours of studying movies, Nick assigns literary roles to himself and his wife, calling himself the hero, or protagonist, and her the antagonist.

Interestingly enough, these are the roles that they actually play in Gone Girl. While Nick isn't necessarily likeable, we don't want him to be guilty, and we ultimately feel sympathetic toward him when Amy traps him at the end. Amy, by contrast, is difficult to feel sympathy for, mostly because of her classic antagonist behavior of keeping Nick from freedom and happiness.