Unreliable Narration: Gone Girl
If you haven't read the first post in this series, check it out here! This post will be an analysis of Gone Girl in relation to unreliable narration and will reference definitions/ organization from the previous post. This is a bit of a hefty post, but I hope it's useful to other writers!
MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW!
To continue our exploration of unreliable narration, we are going to delve into a highly controversial novel—Gone Girl. Gillian Flynn has gotten flack from feminists and anti-feminists alike but it all boils down to how she creates powerful emotions in her work, and how does she do this? You guessed it! Unreliable narration!
Gone Girl has a clear unreliable narrator. For those who don't know, Gone Girl is a psychological thriller told through two separate narrators and is about a woman who frames her husband for murder. Nick, the husband, tries to figure out what happened to his wife, while she stays hidden elsewhere and lets a fabricated diary speak for her. Near the end of the book, Amy returns to her husband and entraps him into a marriage of manipulation.
There are indicators that Amy is an unreliable narrator from the middle of the book on. In fact, Amy tells the reader about halfway through, “I would like you to know me first. Not Diary Amy, who is a work of fiction” (Flynn 220). Until this point in the book, Diary Amy is the only Amy that the reader has access to. Diary Amy feels like the girl next door, the woman you must protect, and in fact, this very woman seems to have
disappeared and is dead or in serious danger.
Throughout the entire first half of the book, readers have worried about this woman. Now, she tells the reader that she not only successfully manipulated the cops, but the reader themselves. Rather quickly, the reader’s emotions toward Amy shift from concern to distrust. This matches Olsen’s statement that, “the reaction that untrustworthy narrators elicit in readers differs significantly from those in response to fallible
ones” (102). As readers, we have been explicitly lied to, and we see this as a major character flaw. Flynn spends the rest of the book inside the ‘real’ head of Amy where Amy tries to convince the reader that what she did, framing her husband for murder, was the reasonable choice. Because of our reaction to her unreliability, Amy faces difficulties achieving that goal.
Amy has two main cognitive distortions which drive her actions and utterances. These
distortions are important, but they are secondary to what she says and does. Amy believes two fundamental things that allow and create her dangerous actions. One, other people exist to make her life easier and two, people who do not follow her particular value-system should be and deserve to be punished.
She believes Nick needs punishment because he loved her only until she dropped her ‘cool girl’ disguise as can be seen in, “Nick loved me. A six-o kind of love: He looooooved me. But he didn’t love me, me. Nick loved a girl who doesn’t exist” (Flynn 222). In Amy’s mind it is Nick’s poor character that is the problem here, not that she put on an act to make him like her and then switched personalities completely, shown here, “can you imagine, finally showing your true self to your spouse, your soul mate, and having him not like you? So that’s how the hating first began” (225).
Amy also thought her parents needed to be punished. She shows a complete lack of concern over her parents' worry about her disappearance because, in her mind, they never really appreciated the money they made off her (238). These cognitive stories that Amy tells herself propel her into her unreliable state where she commits atrocious acts to create the punishments she thinks the people in her life deserve.
Amy’s actions are extreme. She does things like frame her husband for murder, steal a
pregnant woman’s urine, convince an ex-boyfriend to hide her from the world, and murder him after his help. These accomplishments require not only physical actions but a lot of lying along the way. And that includes lying to the reader. Amy does this successfully by playing on readers' stereotypes, or their preconceived notions of how certain people should think, act, and feel in relation to the rest of humanity, their gender, and their social class.
The first section of the book is a series of fake diary entries written by none other than
Amy Dunne herself. From the very first entry, the reader develops a warm feeling toward Diary Amy. Within the first two paragraphs, Amy strives to establish a certain picture of herself in the reader’s mind: innocent and lovable, the stereotypical all-American girl as seen here:
Tra and la! I am smiling a big adopted-orphan smile as I write this. I am embarrassed at how happy I am, like some Technicolor comic of a teenage girl talking on the phone with my hair in my ponytail, the bubble above my head saying: I met a boy! But I did. This is a technical, empirical truth. I met a boy, a great gorgeous dude, a funny, cool-ass guy (10).
As seen above, Flynn, through Amy, uses a lot of slang such as “dude”, “cool-ass”, “feh” and “snobdouche”. These elements combine to give the reader a picture of someone younger, perhaps less experienced, and more full of life than the general population. People want to protect younger individuals, especially females, when it comes to the danger their male counterparts can represent in their lives. This feeds into the reader’s stereotypes and allows Amy to get away with her lying longer than many of us would like to admit.
On top of pulling out the reader’s “protective feelings,” Amy makes fun of herself for using the word ‘posterity’, which makes many readers like her. People enjoy those who can make fun of themselves. Then, Amy lies to the reader when she says, “I’m using this journal to get better: to hone my skills, to collect details and observations. To show don’t tell and all that other writery crap” (10). She establishes her goal for writing the diary as a place for her to better her writing (who doesn’t like a woman going after her goal!) when the real purpose is to trick the reader into liking a fake version of herself.
And finally, Amy describes the difficulty of trying to date and does so ‘charmingly’ by the repetitious use of that very word. Flynn, through Amy, has established a connection with anyone who has gone on a bad date—and who hasn’t gone on a bad date?
In just a few short paragraphs, the reader comes away with a strong sense of who Amy is and will carry that idea, and all the baggage such an image holds, in their psyche until the midpoint of the novel when Flynn shatters their beliefs about the young, innocent girl looking for love and replaces her with a woman willing to do terrible things to reach her desired end.
As stated earlier, Amy views people as pawns, to be used and discarded in her game. We
see the backstory on this only after Flynn reveals Amy as unreliable. One such example of Amy using someone is when she befriends Noelle Hawthorne. Noelle lives in the town Nick ‘dragged’ Amy to, and Amy sees an easy victim to fulfill her needs. Amy describes Noelle as, “Nice enough but with a soul made of plastic—easy to mold, easy to wipe down” (258).
Noelle happens to be pregnant and Amy wants to look pregnant because, “I knew the key to big time coverage, round the clock, frantic, bloodlust never-ending Ellen Abbott coverage, would be the pregnancy” (258). It is yet another way to make Nick look worse and her more innocent.
To solve the problem of not actually being pregnant, Amy steals some of Noelle’s urine, fakes a phobia of needles, and tricks a doctor into acknowledging that the urine confirms her pregnancy (259).
Another person Amy uses in life is Desi Collings. Desi has loved Amy for a long time, and again, Amy shows little regard for him as a person when she says, “Desi, another man along the Mississippi. I always knew he might come in handy” (324). However, what Amy fails to realize is that Desi might love Amy a little bit too much. He helps her, but she finds herself under house arrest and must kill him to escape. How handy that she can also blame him for her disappearance in the first place and return to Nick, who she thinks has come around (374).
When the reader sees Amy Dunne in all her darkness, their negative reaction is enhanced because of the earlier unreliable narration. Most of the actions and utterances that Amy tells us about happened in the past—when the reader believed she was a very different person. The reader imagines her sitting at home waiting on an unresponsive husband; but in reality, she was plugging up a toilet to fake a pregnancy.
Thus, Amy clearly represents an untrustworthy narrator with actions, utterances, and cognitive distortions that go against the general population’s value system. The next two reviews will deal with the other type of unreliable narrator—those of the fallible type.