A child weaned on poison finds comfort in abuse
Violence in Women’s Literature
Observations from the book Sharp Objects – A Novel by Gillian Flynn
The book Sharp Objects, by Gillian Flynn describes a troubled girl with a dark past from a moneyed but troubled family who are the epicenter of a troubled town. The girl in question, Camille Preaker, covers the crime beat at Chicago’s fourth largest newspaper – The Chicago Daily Post. Thumbtacks, steak knives and razor blades are some of Camille’s sharp objects. Camille is a cutter. She carves negatively connoted words her own flesh, eleven of which are synonyms for anxious (60). Random terms – kitty, curls and cupcake; wicked, petticoat and queasy speak to her moods. The words all had one thing in common; they marked stressful events in Camille’s life. Says Camille; “sometimes I can hear the words squabbling at each other across my body. Up on my shoulder, panty calling down to cherry on the inside of my right ankle. On the underside of a big toe, sew uttering muffled threats to baby just under my left breast. I can quiet them down by thinking vanish, always hushes and regal, looking over the other words from the safety of the nape of my neck. (62)
Camille’s troubles are many and complex, they spring from a painfully unhappy childhood where she longed for the love and affection of her mother, and daydreamed about finding her real father. “I’ve long since given up trying to discover anything about my dad… I can’t stand to think about him too specifically,” she laments. Camille cut herself the first time when she was thirteen, the same year she lost her baby sister; started on her period, explored her sexuality and became Wind Gap’s most beautiful and sought after teenager. The violence spectrum is covered end-to-end in Sharp Objects, the weapons of are both tangible and intangible. The sharp objects to execute gruesome murders, psychological torture, self-inflicted wounds, mental torment and sexual violence. But perhaps the sharpest objects are mothers who inflict torture upon their children taking away their ability to become normal members of society. Camille’s grandmother Joyo made Adora into a sociopath and Adora in turn passed on the sickness to her children. So cold an unfeeling was Adora that she was not afraid to tell Camille how she felt. “I think I finally realized why I don’t love you,” she said. I tried to tell myself I was intrigued, like a scientist on the edge of a breakthrough, but my throat closed up and I had to make myself breath. “you remind me of my mother. Joya. Cold and distant and so smug. My mother never love me either, And if you girls won’t love me, I won’t love you.
Camille never went back to Wind Gap after College, she put down roots in Chicago and tried making a life for herself, but it is hard to cut herself off from the memories of Wind Gap and her mother, and shortly after a stint in a Psych ward to resolve self-injury, her editor Curry assigned her to a story in Wind Gap. She hadn’t been back in a decade, but someone was targeting little girls in the small Missouri Town. This could make her into a sought after journalist, so she made a long over-due, but reluctant return to the town of her childhood.
Author Gillian Flynn demonstrates how parental violence physically and emotionally killed three girls. Camille Preaker and her sisters Marian and Amma bear the brunt of this violence from their mother Adora, the mentally unstable supreme queen of Wind Gap. Amma and Camile are physically strong and are able to withstand the violence meted out to them by their mother, however, but no so much the emotional and mental pain which turned them both into damaged goods. Sadly, Marian’s body could not withstand the violence, and it killed her.
Adora devoted herself to making Marian sick and spent every waking hour caring for her at the expense of her oldest – Camille. This took a toll on her, she was the daughter of the town’s wealthiest and most influential person; however, being ignored had a colossal impact on her. “I’m here… when I am panicked, I say them aloud to myself, I’m here. I don’t usually feel that I am. I feel like a warm gust of wind could exhale my way and I’d be disappeared forever, not even a sliver of finger-nail left behind.” (95)
Camille’s youngest sister Amma was born while Camille was away in College, she barely knew her. Amma longed for the same care and attention as Camille did, and in a round-about way found out that Adora would care for her and be attentive if she was sick. Unlike Camille, she did not refuse Adora’s ministrations. The lonesomeness which inflicted damage on both Camille and Amma’s psyche had different results. Camille sort to self-injury, alcohol and drugs while in addition to drugs and alcohol Amma became a psychopath.
Mothers are powerful symbols in their daughter’s life, and often, the relationship between a mother and child shapes the child future. Both girls acquired impairments not unlike feral children who have little or no experience with care, affection and human social behavior. Their disorders that are in direct relation to the experiences they have survived. Adora did not have positive role models either; her mother Joya was also a stern, cold and detached woman from whom came no open display of affection. Children who do benefit positive stimulation, normal mother-to-child bonding and primary socialization and who suffer neglect in their formative years are incapable of living a normal life. Just as the body needs air, food and water for optimal health ones mental and emotional health also need to be nurtured. This idea is clear in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a theory developed 70 years ago by American psychologist Abraham Maslow. Maslow explains by using a five-section pyramid which has at the bottom basic fundamental human needs such as food and water. This is followed by safety and security needs like shelter, personal safety and health. This is followed by emotional needs which includes a sense of belonging, friendship, family a sense of being valued which helps to build self-esteem and self-respect which is at the fourth level of the pyramid. At the top is self-actualization where each person becomes their ideal self. Each sector of the pyramid forms the foundation of the complete person and deprivation in any area will impact a person’s ability to become their best self. Deprivation in any area of the pyramid would be violently abusive.
Psychologist also says that humans are naturally social. Therefore, in order to develop normally, children need adults to care for them, communicate with them, keep them safe, show them love and affection. In Sharp Objects Camille, Mariane and Amma did not benefit from a normal relationship with their mother. Yes their basic fundamental needs were met in that they had food and shelter, but they lived in a kind of emotional isolation in which they were starved of a healthy relationship with their mother. The pain that both Amma and Camille bear is very clear when in a drug infused haze Camille both girls level with each other, positive that they did not have their mother’s love. What’s more, they often felt they had to compete with their dead sister. “…It’s impossible to compete with the dead.” (64)
“She doesn’t like you.”“
“No she doesn’t.”
“Well she doesn’t like me either, just in a different way.”
“Did she like you less after Marian was dead?”
“So it didn’t help.” “What?” “Her dying didn’t help things.”
Adora was hateful cold and detached yet at the same time, needy. She poisoned her children so that she could minister to them. Not to spend quality time with them as normal parents try to do, but to do seem as a kind of nursing and mothering angel. Adora is classic textbook case for Munchausen by Proxy syndrome (MBPS). MBPS is a rare form of child abuse that involves the exaggeration or fabrication of illnesses or symptoms by a primary caretaker. The care-giver causes symptoms in the child through poisoning, medication, or even suffocation. Typically, the cause is a need for attention and sympathy from doctors, nurses, and other professionals. The first time we saw this in Shape Objects, was when Adora came to see Camille in hospital. When we were alone she talked about the foliage and some new town rule that required Christmas lights to taken down by January 15. When my doctors joined us, she cried and petted and fretted at me. She stroked my hair and wondered why I’d done this to myself. (64) It is also believe that it isn’t just the attention that’s gained from the “illness” of the child that drives this behavior, but also the satisfaction in deceiving individuals who they consider to be more important and powerful than themselves. Because the parent or caregiver appears to be so caring and attentive, often no one suspects any wrongdoing. Diagnosis is made extremely difficult due to the ability of the parent or caregiver to manipulate doctors and induce symptoms in their child. Adora’s middle child suffered for most her entire childhood , undergoing numerous test and hospital stays, however, Doctor have never been able to make a diagnosis. A nurse working with Marion however noted. “The child exhibits signs of illness after spending time alone with her mother, even on days when she had felt well up until maternal visits. Mother shows no interest in Marian when she is well, in fact seems to punish her. Mother holds child only when she is sick and crying.” (226). If only the nurse was taken seriously, then it could have saved Marian’s life. Camille would have been given a more normal up-bring Amma, if at all born, would not have become a serial killer a girl who “enjoyed hurting.” (251)