The Symbolism of the Body
In Sharp Objects, Camille’s body acts as both symbol and theater of the novel’s subjects of childhood emotional damage, toxic mothering, sexual abuse, and female rage. As the symbolic locus for so many central concerns, Camille’s body takes on the role of a meta-narrator in Sharp Objects. Her body tells Camille’s biography, speaks of the forces that have shaped her, and attests to the power of storytelling itself. Through the layered information of Camille’s body, Flynn makes a meta-comment on how women’s bodies serve as arenas for social and political forces in the world. Early on in the novel, Camille reveals to the reader that she is a “cutter… a snipper, a slicer, a carver, a jabber.” Camille self-harms, but with “purpose.” From the neck down, Camille has carved words into almost every inch of her body she can reach. All the words—“baby,” “milk,” “vanish,” “falling”—have personal significance for Camille, yet are also universally powerful. Camille writes her story on her body, thereby reclaiming agency and power from her damaged past.
For instance, Camille wears her lexicon as an armor to keep her body’s surface private. Dressed in full-sleeved shirts and jeans even in the peak of summer, Camille remains fully covered and rebuffs the advances of potential boyfriends. By altering her body, Camille rebels against its sexualization—which she was subjected to as a young teenager. Further, as the child of an extremely abusive mother who wants to own and consume her children’s bodies, Camille’s cutting is a way to wrest back control of her individuality. Camille’s cutting can also be viewed as wish to annihilate herself, because she has internalized her mother’s hatred of her and, more broadly, society’s hatred of women. The practice can also be viewed as an expression of Camille’s guilt for surviving, given that her sister Marian died. However, at the subtextual level, Camille’s writing on her body is better read as a survivor’s trick. Camille, who is a journalist, uses words to tell a story and thus order the world around her. She is also the only woman in her family who leaves Wind Gap and forges an independent life. Thus, what Camille carves into her body is a codex of personal meaning, and what her body represents, above all, is an act of resistance.
Female Rage and Violence
One of the most important themes in Sharp Objects can be found in its focus on female rage. While women are traditionally presented as victims of violence, in Sharp Objects they are also the aggressors. Violence is embodied in the figures of the murdered little girls, in Amma’s perverse happiness at watching sows being forcibly nursed at Adora’s pig farm, and in the way Adora plucks her lashes. Thus, the text acknowledges the force of female anger, a trope popular narratives ignore.
But the novel goes further than just voicing this rage. Sharp Objects also explores the complex way in which female rage plays out. For instance, women’s violence often coexists with overt signs of femininity and sweetness: thirteen-year-old Amma can’t eat her ham unless it is dunked with honey, whereas golden-haired, slim Adora is the image of upper-class femininity. Furthermore, the lines between sex and violence are often blurred: Camille recalls her own abusive sexual experiences as a child, and notes how Amma wields her sexual power as “a form of aggression. Long skinny legs… and high, babied voice all aimed like a gun.” Camille directs her rage against herself, cutting her own skin.
Expressed extremely in the case of the Preaker women, female rage in the novel is all-pervasive, disguised in the form of everyday meanness, as Camille encounters at a reunion with her former Wind Gap schoolmates, who belittle Camille for her choice to be child-free.
“I don’t mean this to sound cruel,” Tish began, “but it seems like part of your heart can never work if you don’t have kids.”
(The entire section is 1,238 words.)