Narratives of Infidelity and Revenge: Euripides’ Medea vs. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Disclaimer: I have not seen the 2014 movie Gone Girl just yet – this review is based on the book alone. Warning for sensitive readers – the novel contains graphic sexual imagery and quite a bit of profanity. In this review, I am analyzing the story and not critiquing the content; however, quotes used in this review were carefully chosen to avoid these aspects while still giving weight to the argument.

One of my New Years’ resolutions that I’m striving to uphold is to get back into reading more. I used to read book after book but last semester I found it hard to keep up the habit.

So last week I went to the library and picked up some books to read, and incidentally ended up choosing the novel Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. The book had been recommended to me by a friend so I decided to give it a shot.

Coincidentally (or incidentally, I’m not sure which is more appropriate), my theater class this semester kicked off by reading the play Medea by the Greek playwright Euripides.

We all volunteered to read for characters, and I volunteered to read for the role of Medea. I was about halfway through Gone Girl at this point.

When I got back to my dorm that night and picked up the book again before going to bed, it suddenly hit me that these two narratives, written over two thousand years apart from each other, deal with the same basic concept – what would a woman do if she found out her husband was cheating on her? To what lengths would she go?

Now, if it was me (and hopefully I would never end up in this situation), I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t go as far as trying to kill my husband/children/husband’s girlfriend/whoever else gets in the way as the characters, Medea and Amy Dunne, do, but it still begs the question: If I was placed in a situation like that, how would I react?

I’ve known the story of Jason and Medea at least since I became fascinated with Greek mythology around the age of 11 or 12, and it’s interesting reading for Medea, knowing the monster of a character she is, and ending up sympathizing with her position a little.

As a reader, I can’t sympathize with either main character – Jason or Medea – because both characters have committed grevious wrongs and have not repented of them. They still believe what they did was right and their ego or their anger gets in the way of truly realizing the horror of what they have done.

And the same goes for Nick and Amy in Gone Girl.

Without giving away the plot of the book entirely, I was rooting for Amy for most of the first half of the book, especially when I found out Nick had been cheating on her. But then Amy’s true character starts to be revealed and I start to side with Nick a little. By the end of the book, however, I’m shaking my head at both of them. I can’t pick a side here. Both characters are in the wrong.

The interesting thing here is, though I can’t condone the characters’ actions, their motives and emotions are easy to understand. Medea is upset at how women are treated in her time, like possessions and trophies instead of people:

“Of all Earth’s creatures that live and breathe,

Are we women not the wretchedest?

We scratch and save, a dowry to buy a man –

And then he lords it over us: we’re his,

Our lives depend on how his lordship feels.

For better for worse: we can’t divorce him.

However he turns out, he’s ours and ours he stays.

– Medea, Euripides

And Amy Dunne has a similar rant in Gone Girl – a different era, a slightly different situation, but the same idea:

“You don’t ever want to be the wife who keeps her husband from playing poker – you don’t want to be the shrew with the hair curlers and the rolling pin. So you swallow your disappointment and say okay.”

Gone Girl, Pg. 157

Now, I’m not saying that I agree with these generalized definitions of men in these passages, but I do agree that both women are in the sort of situation where their husband is that type of man to them. And it’s easy to be bitter. It’s easy to want to get out, to plot revenge against them. And the women in these stories go incredibly far.

One thing my theater professor kept polling the class about was whose side were they on: Jason’s or Medea’s? Are you Team Jason or Team Medea? And I didn’t raise my hand for either one. Because the other side of this issue, the flip side, is just as bad because the characters’ reaction goes WAY too far, to the point of murder.

Yes, Jason and Nick cheated on their wives. In Medea, Jason doesn’t even repent of it. He makes excuses instead, about needing more sons and wanting status to protect her and the children. It makes me sick just reading it. He doesn’t care about her at all, it’s obvious.

In Gone Girl, Nick realizes that he did wrong and sincerely repents of it, but then grows bitter at what his wife is doing to him and the pendulum swings the wrong way. Now he wants to reveal her as the murdering deceiver she is, send her to jail and make her pay for exposing him and plotting against him. But he’s now also afraid of her, of what she might do to him.

Medea and Amy have a right to be angry, to be upset, to feel like they need to do something about it. The problem is, they deal with that anger in the wrong way and lash out. They use their intellect and cleverness not in trying to make it right, but in getting revenge.

Medea, describing her plot to kill the princess Glauce, Jason’s lover, and Glauce’s father, Creon, and eventually her and Jason’s own two children, to deprive Jason of everything he’s ever loved:

“Evil, evil on every side,
But watch and see.
Unhappy times await that happy pair,
And all who fawn on them.
D’you think I’d have crawled to him,
Pleaded with him, touched him,
If I’d not had secret plans?
The fool could have banished me today
And aborted my revenge. Instead,
I have one whole long day. One day
To make all three cold meat:
Father, daughter – and that man I hate.”

Medea, euripides

And Amy, fed up with her husband’s attitude and behavior:

“It’s rather extreme, framing your husband for your murder. I want you to know that I know that. All the tut-tutters out there will say: She should have just left, bundled up what remained of her dignity. Take the high road! Two wrongs don’t make a right! All those things that spineless women say, confusing their weakness with morality‚Ķ.”
But it’s so very necessary. Nick must be taught a lesson. He’s never been taught a lesson! He glides through life with that charming-Nicky grin, his beloved-child entitlement, his fibs and shirkings, his shortcomings and selfishness, and no one calls him on anything. I think this experience will make him a better person. Or at least a sorrier one.”

Gone Girl, pg. 234-35

Suffice it to say, neither of the stories end well for any of the characters. Not a single character is unaffected. The moral we can take from these stories is to stay far away from the cancer that is vengeance. The Bible is very clear on this:

“Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for God’s wrath, because it is written: Vengeance is mine,
I will repay, says the Lord.

Romans 12:19

So what are we to do instead? You know what the answer is, turn the other cheek. The problem is that’s it’s been used so often it’s become cliche, and that’s a shame because it is just as relevant today as it was when it was written, as evidenced by these two stories.

All the evidence tells us that revenge is a bad idea. It never fixes anything. You can punch a bully in the nose and rejoice over the temporary feeling it gives you, but in the end it never helps. We risk exacerbating the problem, or worse, becoming a bully ourselves.

In fact, I just watched a Supernatural episode (After School Special, Series 4) that involves that very thing: Sam, in high school, defended a friend against a bully by fighting back and winning; but the bully ended up becoming the bullied one and killed himself.

It’s a vicious cycle – one that can never be escaped unless someone has the guts to realize what’s going on and take a step back. And lest you think that turning the other cheek involves becoming a doormat to keep the peace, Scripture has a slightly more proactive approach. Here’s the next two verses:

If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In so doing, you will be heaping fiery coals on his head.

Do not be conquered by evil; but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:20-21

Basically, the only way to reverse the cycle is to turn it around. Not only turning the other cheek, but also to do good to those who hurt you. It might not be easy, it might not be pleasant, you might not even see lasting benefits, but if you’re not perpetuating the cycle, the buck stops with you.

Ever heard the phrase, “Be the change you want to see in the world”? This is your chance. Don’t be like Medea. Don’t be like Amy. Revenge isn’t best served hot or cold. Healing begins when you decide to take God’s advice and leave the vengeance up to Him.

Leave a comment below to tell me what your opinion is on these two narratives – have you read them before? Did you side with one character or the other? What would have been your reaction? Have you ever been in a situation where you wanted to have revenge on someone? What did you do?