Study Guide

Sharp Objects Analysis

By Gillian Flynn

  • What's Up With the Title?

    Sharp Objects

    In the beginning of the book, it might seem less than obvious why the title is Sharp Objects, but the minute it is revealed that Camille cuts herself, the significance becomes almost painfully clear. It refers to her need to use sharp objects (everything ranging from knives to razors to screws pulled from the base of an institutional toilet) to carve words into her skin, but it can also have deeper meanings, too. The story is rife with the little hurts life can inflict along the way, and sharp objects can be more than just physical tools. Also, Gillian Flynn has a penchant for two-word titles: Dark Places, Gone Girl…you see the pattern.

  • What's Up With the Ending?

    The epilogue to Sharp Objects starts out pretty bleak, outlining Amma’s motives for killing those poor girls. Then Camille has a violent meltdown slicing her back to shreds, and she is stopped just before she starts in on her face. Frank Curry and his wife have taken her in to live with them, and are caring for her in a loving, parental way. So Gillian Flynn ends her books like this:

    It is almost May 12, one year exactly from my return to Wind Gap. The date also happens to be Mother’s Day this year. Clever. Sometimes I think about that night caring for Amma, and how good I was at soothing her and calming her. I have dreams of washing Amma and drying her brow. I wake with my stomach turning and a sweaty upper lip. Was I good at caring for Amma because of kindness? Or did I like caring for Amma because I have Adora’s sickness? I waver between the two, especially at night, when my skin begins to pulse.

    Lately, I’ve been leaning toward kindness. (Epilogue.14)

    Ahhhh. There’s hope on the horizon for Camille. Despite everything she’s been through, it seems like she’s finally in a place where she can begin to heal.

  • Setting

    Wind Gap, Missouri

    “It’s at the very bottom of Missouri, in the boot heel. Spitting distance from Tennessee and Arkansas. […] It’s been around since before the Civil War, [and] it’s near Mississippi, so it was a port city at one point. Now it’s biggest business is hog butchering. About two thousand people live there. Old money and trash.” (1.19)

    Flynn cleverly uses Wind Gap as less of a setting and more of an inanimate character in Sharp Objects. It’s a town that is disheartening, and sparse, and filled with muted violence and the potential for disaster. When Camille discusses depression having a yellowish tint to it, we can almost picture the town filled with a urine-colored haze, which is kind of odd if you’ve ever been to a small southern town. Usually, in real life, the predominant color is the green of the abundant foliage.

    Part of what makes Wind Gap so dang bleak is its quaintness, which instead of being cute is almost suffocating:

    [The police station] squatted at one end of Main Street, which is, true to its word, Wind Gap’s main street. On Main Street you will find a beauty parlor and a hardware store, a five-and-dime called Five-and-Dime, and a library twelve shelves deep. You’ll find a clothing store called Candy’s Casuals, in which you may buy jumpers, turtlenecks, and sweaters that have ducks and schoolhouses on them. (1.49)

    Can you imagine a town today where people still do the bulk of their shopping on Main Street at a Five-and-Dime? What is this, The Andy Griffith Show? But in addition to its desperate clutch upon old-timey affectations, it’s a town that no one can seem to escape. Camille is one of the few who managed to leave, and when she returns she isn’t surprised at all to see old classmates still there, living out their high school power struggles and suffocating classist expectations. She is viewed as a traitor and an unwanted intrusion when she returns to report on Ann and Natalie’s deaths, even more so because she was from Wind Gap. And although she tries to act nonchalant about her new outsider status, she’s also quick to revert to old expectations and behaviors after only a short time home. But she sums it up best when she says:

    I didn’t mind the idea of spilling Wind Gap’s stories to Richard. I felt no particular allegiance to the town. This was the place my sister died, the place I started cutting myself. A town so suffocating and small, you tripped over people you hated every day. People who knew things about you. It’s the kind of place that leaves a mark. (5.105)

  • What's Up With the Epigraph?

    For my parents, Matt and Judith Flynn

    Before you go jumping to any conclusions: Matt and Judith Flynn are not psychopathic killers. Actually, they’re professors of film and literature. And according to Gillian, they’re sweet, encouraging, supportive parents. So why dedicate this book to them?

    Because they are supportive parents. Flynn maintains that it was their love of books and movies that gave her the foundations of her education. She says she may have watched the movie Psycho when she was a bit too young, but now that she’s made a living off having an uncanny knack for writing about psychopaths, she can thank them for it.

  • Tough-o-Meter

    Mount Everest (9)

    Gillian Flynn should’ve just named this book “Trigger Warning,” because lemme tell you, it has it all. Alcoholism, sex, an alarming self-harm habit, drugs, murder, more sex, and some sick, twisted people. The author isn’t exactly known for her light-hearted Rom-Com romps, but Sharp Objects (her freshman novel) is really, really dark. Advance at your own risk.

  • Ophelia In The Crick

    In the creek, there’d been a row of stones that had snagged the clothesline around Ann’s neck, leaving her tethered and floating in the stream like the condemned for half a night. Now, just smooth water rolling over sand. Mr. Ronald J. Kamens had been proud when he told me: The townsfolk had pried out the rocks, loaded them in the back of a pickup, and smashed them just outside town. It was a poignant gesture of faith, as if such destruction would ward off future evil. Seems it didn’t work. (1.112) 

    Sometimes when tragedy strikes, it helps to lash out at a scapegoat of some kind. For the townsfolk of Wind Gap, the only culprit they could turn to were the innocent rocks that had anchored Ann’s body for her last little dip. The imagery here is haunting: if you read the “smooth water” part a bit too fast you might think they were describing her hair as she floated in the slow current. 

    Also, doesn’t it remind you just a bit of Ophelia in Hamlet? Amma had been on quite the kick of emulating tragic heroines from classic literature and myth…do we think she might have done this on purpose? She’s twisted, but we doubt she had that much forethought, to be honest.

  • “Get Off My Lawn, You Hooligans!”

    Calhoon himself died in 1929 as he closed in on his centennial birthday. He was sitting at a gazebo […] being feted by a big brass band, when suddenly he leaned into his fifty-two-year-old wife and said, “It’s all too loud.” Then he had a massive coronary and pitched forward in his chair, smudging his Civil War finery in the tea cakes that had been decorated with the Stars and Bars just for him. 

    I have a special fondness for Calhoon. Sometimes it is all too loud. (2.6) 

    Okay okay, you caught us. This anecdote wasn’t super important to our story, but we liked it so much we had to include it somewhere. And if you think about it, this is quite a metaphor for how hard life can be, right? Like, Camille’s relating the tale because it helps to show just how backwards her small town is (they named the high school after a Confederate war hero, after all), but this story is so apt in a world where people need to take staycations after their vacations because it is so exhausting making everything Instagram-worthy. It can all just be too “loud.”

  • That Dream

    I dreamt I was packing for a trip, then realized I’d laid out all the wrong clothes, sweaters for a summer vacation. I dreamt I’d filed the wrong story for Curry before I left: Instead of the item on miserable Tammy Davis and her four locked-up children, we’d run a puff piece about skin care.

    I dreamt my mother was slicing an apple onto thick cuts of meat and feeding it to me, slowly and sweetly, because I was dying. (2.94)

    This starts out like the most common stress-dream in the books. We’ve all had some version of it: you show up for a test but realize you forgot to study, or even worse you’re naked on the first day of school, or whatever. But then Camille’s dream takes a turn for the grotesque, and we’re thinking the imagery may be more than a case of indigestion. Is it a common thing to feed apples and meat to a dying person? We think at that point it’s a bit late for an apple a day to keep the doctor away.

    And while we’re at it, is it the apple that is killing her? Is this a Snow White reference? Seriously, we’re a bit confused about it all, but we do know that this was done purposefully by Flynn to set the tone. It’s dark, and kinda gross, and keeps your eyes from glazing over like they always do when someone tries to describe their dreams.

  • The Blues

    They always call depression the blues, but I would have been happy to waken to a periwinkle outlook. Depression to me is urine yellow. Washed out, exhausted miles of weak piss. (4.218) 

    This is fantastic. It’s like she pictures depression through those filters that they use to film seedy movies set in 1970s L.A.

  • Poor Elephants

    She didn’t come out of her room for a year after Marian died. A gorgeous room: canopy bed the size of a ship, vanity table studded with frosted perfume bottles. A floor so glorious it had been photographed by several decorating magazines: Made from pure ivory, cut into squares, it lit up the room from below. That room and its decadent floor had me awestruck, all the more so because it was forbidden to me. (5.58)

    A floor made of ivory. A. Whole. Floor. Can you even imagine how many beautiful animals died so that Adora could have her glorious floor? This is important, though, and not just because it shows one of the decadent ways that the richest person in town could show their wealth. At the end of the book we discover that Amma had been pulling out her victims’ teeth in order to use them to reproduce her mother’s floor in her dollhouse. This is messed up on so many levels:

    1. Do thirteen year olds still obsessively play with dollhouses? Isn’t that a bit old?
    2. Now we understand why she threw a fit when the leg of the dining room table didn’t match perfectly. If she’s gonna kill people to get their teeth because everything has to be perfect, couldn’t her parents at least make an effort?
    3. Ivory has been a symbol of wanton destruction and greed for a long time now, and Flynn takes it to a whole new level when she uses human teeth. It speaks to the disposability of life for prestige materials, and is cleverly dastardly.

    Amma has zero compunction about the cruelty inherent in ivory. She admits it while she and Camille are rolling on E for a drug-induced sisterly bonding session:

    “I like our house,” Amma interrupted. “I like her room. The floor is famous. I saw it in a magazine one time. They called it ‘The Ivory Toast: Southern Living from a Bygone Time.’ Because now of course you can’t get ivory. Too bad. Really too bad.” (12.124)

  • That Nightmare

    I drank the rest of the sours and had dark sticky dreams. My mother had cut me open and was unpacking my organs, stacking them in a row on my bed as my flesh flapped to either side. She was sewing her initials into each of them, then tossing them back into me, along with a passel of forgotten objects: an orange Day-Glo rubber ball I got from a gumball machine when I was ten; a pair of violet wool stockings I wore when I was twelve; a cheap gold-tinted ring a boy bought me when I was a freshman. With each object, relief that it was no longer lost. (10.121) 

    We’re gonna need some kind of professional dream analyst to unpack everything in this doozy of a nightmare, but before we do that, just the facts: Camille has this dream after she shares a few whiskey sours with Adora, and they have one of the most disturbing mother-daughter talks ever conceived. Her mom coldly tells her why she never loved her, and the conversation ends with her promising to carve her name in the one blank spot of skin Camille has left. So it’s no surprise that she dreams of her mom ripping her open and tattooing her initials on her organs after the verbal evisceration she just received. 

    When her mom is throwing in those random knick-knacks that Camille had treasured, that’s the real meaty bit for our interpretation. Is Camille feeling like her mom withheld those things she loved on purpose? Is she feeling more whole or complete now that her mom has come right out with her disinterest of her own daughter? Discuss.

    • Allusions

      Literary and Philosophical References

      • Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time (3.34)

      Historical References

      • Millard Calhoon (2.5)
      • Eleanor Roosevelt (3.60)
      • Warren Hardin’s wife, “the Duchess” (3.60)