Study Guide

Gone Girl Men and Masculinity

By Gillian Flynn

Men and Masculinity

My dating life seems to rotate around three types of men: preppy Ivy Leaguers who believe they're characters in a Fitzgerald novel; slick Wall Streeters with money signs in their eyes, their ears, their mouths; and sensitive smart-boys who are so self-aware that everything feels like a joke. (2.12)

Amy's view of the guys she dates reveals that she really doesn't have a whole lot of respect for them. This statement of the character traits they have in common makes it sound like she's putting them in three different packages, none of which allow them to be concerned with anything more than money or themselves. In a way, Amy's so self-centered that it isn't surprising she'd go for these guys—but at the same time, it suggests that her view of men is pretty limited and full of stereotypes.

My dad was a man of infinite varieties of bitterness, rage, distaste. In my lifelong struggle to avoid becoming him, I'd developed an inability to demonstrate much negative emotion at all […] It was a constant problem: too much control or no control at all. (7.76)

Nick's abusive father is a major force in Gone Girl's portrayal of masculinity. We don't know what happened to Bill Dunne in his own childhood to make him a candidate for anger management, but one thing's for sure: he did major damage to Nick's concept of himself as a man, particularly his ability to honestly express emotion.

"Double Lives: A Memoir of Ends and Beginnings will especially resonate with Gen X males, the original man-boys, who are just beginning to experience the stress and pressures involved with caring for aging parents. In Double Lives, I will detail:

My growing understanding of a once-troubled, distant father

My painful, forced transformation from a carefree young man into the head of a family as I deal with the imminent death of a much loved mother." (18.10-12)

This excerpt from the book proposal Amy finds on Nick's desktop shows more than Nick's desire to cash in on his current trauma through a potential runaway bestseller. While the voice in the proposal seems confident and self-assured in his identity as an only son providing for his parents and wife, we as readers know the truth.

He's not growing in understanding of his father. Amy claims he's shirking his responsibility as "head of the family," and really, the current circumstances haven't been as much of a life-changing wakeup call as, say, losing his job. Through the proposal, Nick's attempting to recreate an identity for himself as a man who is successful in all the areas he knows he's failing in.

Desi is a white knight type. He loves troubled women […]. My story would satisfy his craving for ruined women—I was now the most damaged of them all. (44.9, 18)

As a man, Desi is the anti-Nick. Rather than being afraid to show emotion, he probably shows too much of it as he fawns over the damaged women he rescues. Check out the way he acts toward Amy, for example—he gives her way more attention than is acceptable and scares her away. Of course, the fact that she chooses Desi to manipulate demonstrates his weakness as a person—Amy only plays games with people she can control.

"You are a man," I say. "You are an average, lazy, boring, cowardly, woman-fearing man. Without me, that's what you would have kept on being, ad nauseum. But I made you into something […] Without me, you're just your dad." (56.30)

Ouch. Even though we're pretty glad Nick and Amy are fictional characters and not our neighbors, we can still feel Nick's pain when Amy brings out the worst insult she can possibly give him: that he's like his dad. Amy knows too well the pain his father inflicted on him and the blame Nick gives him for the man he's become. And she's not afraid to use it.

I thought it would make me feel better to have the man vanished from the earth, but I actually felt a massive, frightening hollowness open up in my chest. I had spent my life comparing myself to my father, and now he was gone. (61.13)

Nick spends the entire book anxiously awaiting the loss of his abusive father, only to find himself filled with an emptiness he never expects. After basing his entire life on being as little like his father as possible, he's left with a hole in his own life regardless of their poor relationship.

I was a prisoner after all. Amy had me forever, or as long as she wanted, because I needed to save my son, to try to unhook, unlatch, debarb, undo everything that Amy did. I would literally lay down my life for my child, and do it happily. I would raise my son to be a good man. (63.19)

So Amy's plan to land Nick on death row doesn't turn out the way she initially hopes—but all's not lost. She can still gain control of his life using the one thing she knows he wants: a son. The last thing Nick would do is abandon a boy the way his father emotionally abandoned him, and the announcement of Amy's pregnancy forces him to sacrifice his own happiness for his child.

"Go! You really need me to feel more impotent than I do right now?" I snapped. "I have no idea what I'm supposed to be doing. There's no 'When Your Wife Goes Missing 101.'" (7.139)

It's interesting that Nick chooses impotence as a metaphor for his frustration in this conversation with his sister. In his struggle to prevent negative emotions from leaking through, he's becoming completely ineffectual and useless. The fact that Nick doesn't take control the way the husband of a disappeared woman is expected to only makes his situation with the general public and cops worse.

The Blue Books, they all made themselves a nice little town over in the mall. Squatting. Drug deals. The police run them out every once in awhile, but they're always back the next day […] some of them, they gang-raped a girl there a month ago. I mean, you get a bunch of angry men together, and things aren't good for a woman that comes across them. (13.50)

It's true that groups of men bent on revenge and letting out aggression aren't usually the most friendly people in the world, but a lot of Nick's observations of the Blue Book Boys—and the men he encounters in general—are most likely rooted in the damage his father did. He already knows what one angry man can do to a woman. Imagine eight or nine of them.

"We want [Amy] back. Nick wants her back." [Rand] put a hand on my shoulder, wiped his eyes, and I involuntarily turned to steel. My father again: Men don't cry. (9.53)

Bill Dunne was wrong—men do cry, and they do show emotion. When they're told they can't or at least feel inhibited to, it can do drastic damage to their relationships with others, especially their wives and children.