Academic journal article Gender Forum

“I’m the Bitch That Makes You a Man”: Conditional Love as Female Vengeance in Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl

Academic journal article Gender Forum

“I’m the Bitch That Makes You a Man”: Conditional Love as Female Vengeance in Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl

Article excerpt

In the summer of 2012, Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl captured the world's attention with a caustic and transgressive satire concerning the dissolution of marriage within America's contemporary culture of narcissism. The novel focuses on the disappearance of Amy Dunne who has gone missing on her fifth wedding anniversary to her husband, Nick Dunne. Following a series of diary entries serving as red herrings to misdirect the audiences' attention, Amy reveals herself in the second half of the novel to be the mastermind of a malicious plot to frame her husband for murder in response to his infidelity. David Itzkoffdeemed the novel "the year's biggest literary phenomena for a book not containing the words 'Fifty Shades' in the title" ("New Two-Book Deal), and, with the aid of its 2014 cinematic adaptation, Gone Girl spent over 130 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List ("Praise for Gone Girl"). Much of the book's success derives, of course, from its ingenious and original take on the classic whodunit that consistently manipulates the reader with shocking plot-twists and unreliable narrators. Yet, moreover, Gone Girl speaks to an American society that has increasingly grown cynical concerning the transcendent power of love. Bell Hooks decries in All About Love: New Visions that "youth culture today is cynical about love. And that cynicism has come from their pervasive feeling that love cannot be found . . . To them, love is for the naïve, the weak, the hopelessly romantic. Their attitude is mirrored in the grown-ups they turn to for explanations . . . [and this] cynicism is the great mask of the disappointed and betrayed heart" (xviii-xiv). Gone Girl exposes the improbability of unconditional love because of America's consumer culture that breeds a narcissistic selfishness that forces impossible demands on relationships due to self-seeking behaviors.

Perhaps Americans are justified in their anxieties regarding love and marriage. The divorce rate in the United States is known to range between a staggering 44-50% (Kennedy and Ruggles 588), and many scholars suggest that America's culture of expressive individualism has constructed much higher expectations on marriage than the past by demanding its fulfillment of self-actualization goals on Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs: a hope that ultimately leads to a greater sense of disappointment when it is not fully achieved (Neffand Morgan 96). Yet while American's are increasingly demanding more from their marriages, they are simultaneously putting less time in the cultivation of their relationships. Many cultural critics, beginning with Tom Wolfe in 1976, define the self-expressive era as a cultural shifttowards consumer narcissism: i.e. the emergence of the "Me Generation." Wolfe suggests, that "the old alchemical dream was changing base metals into gold. The new alchemical dream is changing one's personality-remaking, remodeling, evaluating, and polishing one's very self- . . . and observing, studying, and doting on it. (Me!)" (143, emphasis and ellipses in original). The transformation of the American Dream from production based to consumer driven ultimately incites narcissistic desires to revise the self through conspicuous consumption, as the symbols of success (e.g. fitness indicators) are readily available for purchase. Following this transition, cultural critics began declaring the sense of communal belonging that governed previous consumption practices was being replaced by the establishment of individual identity and new standards of comparison that are increasingly difficult to obtain (Schor 10). This consumer capitalism, of course, not only profits when "it can address those whose essential needs have already been satisfied but who have the means to assuage 'new' invented needs-Marx's 'imaginary needs'" (Barber 9). The American Dream within consumer culture thus becomes elusive, repackaged as an ever-changing product that must be obtained by an individual who anxiously measure him/herself against the accomplishments of his/her peers in the quest for identity and self-actualization. …

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