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Missing Girls: The Story Trope We Need

Missing Girls: The Story Trope We Need
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Palina Dolia

"Have you seen this girl?"

The disappearance move is almost more common in detective stories and thrillers than finding a dead body in a locked room or investigating serial murders. The main character follows in the footsteps of the lost lover, daughter or close friend, revealing more and more secrets that filled her life along the way. Fascinatingly, isn’t it? Certainly. Just pay attention: the statistics of such literary disappearances has a significant gender preponderance. So why does a woman disappear in every book? Let's take a look at the history of one of the most popular tropes in modern detective fiction.

Today we will talk mainly about detective stories, but this genre does not have a monopoly on the use of the trail with the missing girl. In the end, it is actively used wherever it is necessary to whip up the atmosphere, but for clarity, let's take one specific genre ­– after all, no one exploits the topic of disappearances as actively as detectives do.


About the origins

Let's face it: the world outside has never been safe. From childhood, we are taught not to talk to strangers, so as not to be locked in the trunk of their car on the way to a much worse future. Do not take candy from strangers, do not go to their homes, even if you ask for help ... The requirements are certainly sound. The child is defenseless, and this is easy for an attacker to take advantage of. But does this vulnerability disappear with age? Each of us wants to say yes, but in fact we all know the truth.

So, danger awaits us around every corner, no matter how old we are. A brick can fall on your head at either three or thirty-three. The gravel truck will not ask for your passport before flying towards a red light. But when we talk about the danger of the world around us, first of all we think not about tragic accidents that can overtake at any moment – we think about other people. Accidents are not so scary. In the end, a flying brick does not feel any hatred for you – it was just that the circumstances of your meeting developed. The situation is completely different with people. The very thought that another person, the same as you, reasonable, with his past and present, may sincerely desire to harm you, scares you to the point of shivering. Someone else's soul is darkness, isn't it? And they can hide very dark thoughts, which sometimes find embodiment in no less terrible actions.

Every day we meet with a huge number of people: we cross in crowded transport, we pass by on a busy street, we stand nearby in line at the grocery ticket counter. What is the likelihood that among them there is a person whose mind is distorted by hatred of others? Much higher than you might imagine. You could have met the killer face to face and never found out about it.


About girls

Actually, detectives exploit the topic of murder even more often, but this is worthy of a separate material. Now, having clarified the basics, we return to the disappeared girls. Why are there so many more of them in literature than missing men? The answer lies on the surface: women are less likely to feel safe. In the event of a sudden attack, a fragile lady is much less likely to fight back than an average man, and there is only one way out – escape. But it is not always possible either. Thus, the girls' sense of their own vulnerability is much stronger. For them, the night streets do not look peaceful: rather, it is a dungeon with traps, a chain of mousetraps, you never know where the trap is hiding.


A curious moment regarding the embodiment of the vulnerability on the pages of books. In English literature, stories about missing girls appear every year and the word "girl" is often used in their titles. So, "Gone Girl" by Gillian Flynn and "The Girl on the Train" by Paula Hawkins are the examples. Despite the fact that it may well be used in the meaning of "girl" (and it is usually what is meant), thanks to the meaning of "girl" the word further emphasizes this very feeling of vulnerability. After all, children are even more vulnerable in the face of danger.


About statistics

Another important aspect. Sad murder statistics tell us that men are more likely to be attacked by strangers, while women are more likely to suffer at the hands of loved ones. Spouses, partners, family members ... Surely, you have more often come across tragic news about how domestic violence or simple jealousy went too far. But when was the last time you saw the news of a woman suspected of murdering her own husband? In this situation, it is frightening that someone close to you may be hiding something terrible. It seemed to you that you have known each other all your life, but you are not. A beloved husband turns out to be a stranger with bad thoughts – how can this not catch on? After all, we have all been burned at least once by unjustified trust in loved ones, and this familiar feeling is maximally embodied in the path of the disappeared.


About empathy

It is easier for a girl to disappear, and this causes more sympathy.

From the start, the reader begins to believe: the heroine did not disappear of her own accord. She did not run away, did not burn bridges in her attempts to start a new life. Something terrible happened to her, and this urgently needs to be dealt with. Therefore, the main character, without hesitation for a second, begins his investigation, unraveling a complex tangle of connections, relationships and old sins. And, no matter how strange it may sound, often in the books about the disappeared girl the heart of the story is missing – the disappeared herself. She is a target, a set of clues and clues, a story behind the scenes. Almost always we are left to figure out what happened to her, piece by piece a picture of her last days before disappearing. History turns into an endless attempt to fill this void, to find the loss. And at the same time, we clog the empty space with ominous details. Something terrible happened to the heroine – but what exactly? What challenges did she face? Did it hurt? Did she survive? The more details, the more we are involved, empathized, believe in a good ending. After all, after so much suffering, doesn't the heroine deserve to be happy? Or at least alive.


About the reasons

We can hope that one day the world around us will become so calm that even in literature there will be nothing to be afraid of, and women, who previously regularly disappeared in the pages of books, will finally be safe and find their voice – in the frame, and not outside it. But are we going to read that? We are drawn to difficult stories of other people's experiences, violence, fear. Each time we take up such a book, we seem to press on a bruise that has not yet healed: it is irrational, painful, but it makes us feel alive. We want to read about what worries us, and what worries us about our own vulnerability. Every day is a big test: you never know what can happen to you.

Therefore, we read stories of girls disappearing. They allow us to reflect on our feelings of vulnerability and helplessness, while also giving us hope.

After all, while there is no dead body in the case, there is a chance for a good ending.


What can you read on this topic, detective and not only:

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn It will shatter your notions of the Missing Girl Trail, modern detective stories, and married life in general, but you'll love it.

Human Croquet by Keith Atkinson. The disappearance of the mother of the family, which begins mystically and even magically, but ends with trembling in the bones.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stig Larsson. A sealed detective with a Swedish flavor, packed to the brim with controversial stories and skeletons in family closets.

My Favorite Sputnik by Haruki Murakami. About abnormal things that happen to perfectly normal people, and the loneliness that happens to each of us.

Girl in the Fog by Donato Carrisi. The classic trail of the disappeared girl, where the very course of the investigation comes to the fore, and along with it – the question "what is justice in general?"

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