Study Guide

Sharp Objects Themes

By Gillian Flynn

  • Violence

    Violence is something that simmers just underneath the surface in Wind Gap, like an underground spring searching for somewhere to vent. It seems like everyone has these odd, small violent moments that glimpsed on their own don’t seem noteworthy. But then you realize how prevalent they are, whether it’s Amma’s acts of cruelty, Natalie and Ann’s biting, the practices of the hog farm, or Camille’s cutting. That town has some serious issues, and Amma isn’t the only one who needs some serious therapy.

    Questions About Violence

    1. What are some of the causes of the casual cruelty we see in Wind Gap? 
    2. Is the violence limited to the murders? Is it always physical violence?
    3. What makes the violence in Wind Gap different from that which Camille sees in Chicago?
    4. Is anyone exempt from the violence? Does anyone escape unscathed by it?

    Chew on This

    Most of the acts of violence in Sharp Objects arise from the heat of the moment, or a flare of passion that causes a spontaneous combustion.

    The violence in the book is the kind inflicted after careful planning and forethought.

  • Family

    Family can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. In the case of the Crellins, family should be a dirty word. Their dynamic is reliant on the competition amongst siblings for attention from their abusive mother and a totally absent father. Even the grandmother was cruel. It’s no wonder that the other families in the story seem like they come from an alien planet compared to Camille’s…and even then, while they seem more normal, they are far from happy. Instead of support and comfort and succor, the families in Wind Gap seem like just another source of distress.

    Questions About Family

    1. Why is the story of Camille’s conception important to her identity? 
    2. Are any of the families happy in Wind Gap? 
    3. They decide that Amma is better off in Camille’s custody when Adora is arrested…is family always the best option?

    Chew on This

    Everyone’s psychosis can be traced back to his or her family.

    The crazy people in the story would’ve been crazy no matter what their family was like.

  • Manipulation

    Sharp Objects is rife with people trying to manipulate those around them. The motives are all a bit different: some just want to be popular, some are hiding something, and some are cold-blooded killers. But there are two people who really win the prize for being Most Manipulative (talk about the worst yearbook superlative ever): Adora and Amma Crellin. The two of them manipulate circles around the whole town of Wind Gap, and nobody's the wiser until everything blows up in the end.

    Questions About Manipulation

    1. Was Richard manipulating Camille all along, or was he really romantically interested in her? 
    2. How much coercing do you think Amma had to do to make her friends become her accomplices in the murders?
    3. How did Camille avoid her mother’s ministrations? What makes her different from her sisters?

    Chew on This

    Amma’s sociopathic tendencies are a direct result of Adora’s abusive manipulations.

    Amma would always have been psychotic and is easily the most manipulative character in Sharp Objects.

  • Sex and Sexuality

    Some books have sex in them because the author wants to further a romantic relationship between two characters. Not this book. This one uses sex to show how Camille allows herself to be used by other people in order to gain acceptance. It uses sex to show how Amma is a manipulative powerhouse, who uses her perky breasts and the promise of sexual favors to command every boy around her. 

    But it also shows how utterly rudderless the two girls were in terms of their sexual educations. No one lovingly guided them by explaining what was normal or acceptable. Both were thrust into the world gorgeous and whip-smart and completely clueless, and so were forced to figure out their own sexuality in very different ways.

    Questions About Sex and Sexuality

    1. How was Camille’s sexuality indicative of her insecurities? And Amma’s? 
    2. Why is Camille’s most intimate moment with John Keene and not Richard?
    3. How is the imagery in the hunter’s shack important to understanding Camille’s sexual awakening?

    Chew on This

    This book wouldn’t have worked if Gillian Flynn had made Camille or Amma ugly.

    Gillian Flynn made Adora and Alan seemingly asexual to provide a foil to the intense sexualities of Amma and Camille.

  • Society and Class

    It may not seem that important in a book about a pre-teen serial killer, but society and class play a pretty large role in Sharp Objects. It was essential for Flynn to establish that Wind Gap is a town rooted in its own toxic class struggles between the “old money” and the “trash” in order for us to begin to understand the motives of her characters. She also questions society’s willingness to overlook evil if it comes in a beautiful package, and how women are often underestimated in their ability for violence.

    Questions About Society and Class

    1. From which side of the tracks does Camille hail? Is this important? 
    2. Why is everyone perpetuating the class struggles?
    3. Could this story have worked if it was set in Chicago?

    Chew on This

    If southern society weren’t so prejudiced against the “weaker sex,” Amma and Adora would have been on the top of the suspect list from the very beginning.

    If Camille’s family had been poor, they probably wouldn’t have the same need to act out in the ways that they did.

  • Dissatisfaction

    There’s a lot to be dissatisfied about in Wind Gap, Missouri, so it comes as no surprise that a lot of people there are supremely unhappy. Camille in particular has a lot to be unhappy about: she’s got a messed-up family, she’s bad at her job at a second-tier newspaper, there are little girls showing up dead, and she’s being forced to relive the pain of her adolescence all over again. But she’s not the only one disappointed with everything life has thrown at her; there’s a whole slew of people feeling like they’ve been cheated in one way or another.

    Questions About Dissatisfaction

    1. Why did Adora feel like Camille betrayed her? 
    2. Why does Amma say she needs to leave town?
    3. If you had to rank the characters in order of most satisfied to most unhappy, who would be at the top of the list?
    4. What about Alan? He actually seems pretty content...no?

    Chew on This

    If people could just mind their own business, they would be far happier.

    Everyone in Wind Gap is dissatisfied because they should be dissatisfied. That place is messed up.

  • Madness

    Gillian Flynn is a master of madness. A puppeteer of psychosis. The Captain of crazy. Her forte is writing female characters that are on the verge of sociopathic, and then making her readers like them. Well, if not like them, maybe at least understand them. Mostly. 

    In this book in particular, there are a range of different crazies: Munchausen By Proxy Syndrome, OCD, self-harm, alcoholism, suicidal thoughts, sociopathic murder. The list could go on and on. After a while, all the crazy starts to seem almost normal. Maybe it is normal…

    Questions About Madness

    1. Who is the most insane character in Sharp Objects? How about the most sane? 
    2. How does Flynn use everyone’s various insanities to build tension in the story?
    3. Is madness universal in Wind Gap?

    Chew on This

    Camille’s madness is part of what makes the story compelling.

    Camille would have been a better protagonist if she weren’t so crazy, because then we could focus on the murders rather than her internal struggles.

  • Drugs & Alcohol

    There is a ton of alcohol abuse in Sharp Objects. Like, a lot. Camille is probably the worst offender, drinking shots of warm vodka first thing in the morning and needing double shots of liquid courage on a regular basis. She rationalizes most of her drinking, but we’re pretty sure that’s sign number two that she’s a raging alcoholic. (The first sign being that she drinks way too much.) 

    It isn’t surprising that someone so deeply unhappy would turn to alcohol as a kind of mental lubricant, but then Amma takes it to a whole new level with her Ecstasy, Oxycontin, and other recreational drugs. Let’s just say it definitely keeps things interesting.

    Questions About Drugs & Alcohol

    1. Is Camille the only one who drinks too much? 
    2. Does she have a preferred drink, or will she take anything with alcohol in it?
    3. What are some different ways that drunkenness allows for the plot to progress?

    Chew on This

    For Camille, alcohol is a protective layer from her sharp thoughts and the sharp world around her.

    The death of Marian is the catalyst that made Camille turn to drugs and alcohol.