Camille’s scars, which cover her entire body save for one perfect circle of unblemished, smooth skin left in the center of her back, serve as a symbol throughout the novel for Camille’s dedication to finding and naming the truth, even as those around her—namely her mother, the evil and cunning Adora—seek to disguise themselves in secrets and lies. A self-described “cutter,” Camille insists that the wounds she inflicts upon herself have a “purpose”: her skin, covered with words, “screams.” The words that cover Camille’s body are alternatingly feminine (“babydoll,” “cook, cupcake, kitty, curls,” “petticoat,” “cherry,” “dumpling”) and violent, self-hating, or darkly aspirational (“wicked,” “vanish,” “harmful,” “inarticulate,” “duplicitous”). Cutting makes Camille feel “safe,” as she wrestles the power of language back into her own command and captures “the truth” about herself for herself.
At one point in the novel, Adora takes Camille and her half-sister Amma shopping for clothes. Knowing full well that her eldest daughter is covered in scars, Adora cruelly strands Camille in the dressing room with only strappy, revealing dresses to try on. When Camille comes out of the room, exposing her scars to her mother and sister, Amma is horrified, but Adora is simply disdainful of Camille’s choice to ruin her body and remarks that she hopes Camille can “stand [her]self.” At another point, as Camille and Adora have a drunken heart-to-heart—or the closest thing a heart-to-heart the two women, who revile one another, could ever have—Adora places a finger on the one unblemished piece of skin left on Camille and threatens to “carve [her] name there” someday. These two scenes—which involve Adora, the only person in the world other than Camille herself who knows the full truth about the scars’ existence—symbolize the forces of deceit and deception that mark Adora’s life and the striving towards truth (even if it’s ugly) that marks Camille’s. Deeply traumatized by her youth in Adora’s controlling, sterile, strange household, Camille has chosen to mark her body with words in hopes of exposing some kind of truth. Adora, who is threatened by the truth—as she has horrible secrets to hide, namely her Munchausen by Proxy killing of Camille’s younger sister Marian—seems to both want to expose Camille’s scars and at the same time mock and invalidate them, hoping to keep the truth Camille has, deep down, always known, from ever reaching the light.
Camille’s Scars Quotes in Sharp Objects
I am a cutter, you see. Also a snipper, a slicer, a carver, a jabber. I am a very special case. I have a purpose. My skin, you see, screams. It’s covered with words—cook, cupcake, kitty, curls—as if a knife-wielding first-grader learned to write on my flesh. I sometimes, but only sometimes, laugh. Getting out of the bath and seeing, out of the corner of my eye, down the side of a leg: babydoll. Pulling on a sweater and, in a flash of my wrist: harmful. Why these words? Thousands of hours of therapy have yielded a few ideas from the good doctors. They are often feminine, in a Dick and Jane, pink vs. puppy dog tails sort of way. Or they’re flat-out negative. Number of synonyms for anxious carved in my skin: eleven. The one thing I know for sure is that at the time, it was crucial to see these letters on me, and not just see them, but feel them.
“Camille, open the door.”
“What’s wrong with Camille?” Amma chimed.
“This won’t work.” The side zipper was sticking. My bared arms flashed scars in deep pink and purple. Even without looking directly in the mirror I could see them reflected at me—a big blur of scorched skin.
“Camille,” my mother spat.
“Why won’t she just show us?”
“Momma, you saw the dresses, you know why they won’t work,” I urged.
“Just let me see.”
“I’ll try one on, Momma,” Amma wheedled.
“Camille . . .”
“Fine.” I banged open the door. My mother, her face level with my neckline, winced.
“Oh, dear God.” I could feel her breath on me. She held up a bandaged hand, as if about to touch my chest, then let it drop. Behind her Amma whined like a puppy. “Look what you’ve done to yourself,” Adora said. “Look at it.”
“I hope you just loved it. I hope you can stand yourself.”
She shut the door and I ripped at the dress, the zipper still jammed until my furious tugs yanked the teeth apart enough to get it to my hips, where I wriggled out, the zipper leaving a trail of pink scratches on my skin. I bunched the cotton of the dress over my mouth and screamed.
“You were always so willful, never sweet. I remember when you were six or seven. I wanted to put your hair up in curlers for your school picture. Instead you cut it all off with my fabric shears.” I didn’t remember doing this. I remembered hearing about Ann doing this.
“I don’t think so, Momma.”
“Headstrong. Like those girls. I tried to be close with those girls, those dead girls.”
“What do you mean be close with them?”
“They reminded me of you, running around town wild. Like little pretty animals. I thought if I could be close with them, I would understand you better. If I could like them, maybe I could like you. But I couldn’t. […] And now you come back and all I can think of is ‘Why Marian and not her?’”
Rage flattened immediately into a dark despair. My fingers found a wood staple in the floorboard. I jabbed it under my fingernail. I would not cry for this woman.
“I’m not so pleased to be left here anyway, Momma, if it makes you feel any better.”
“You’re so hateful.”
“I learned at your feet.” My mother lunged then, grabbed me by both arms. Then she reached behind me and, with one fingernail, circled the spot on my back that had no scars.
“The only place you have left,” she whispered at me. Her breath was cloying and musky, like air coming from a spring well.
“Someday I’ll carve my name there.” She shook me once, released me, then left me on the stairs with the warm remains of our liquor.
"[Natalie] had serious problems. We looked for my earlobe, see if it could be stitched back on, but it was gone. I guess she swallowed it.” [Meredith] gave a laugh that sounded like the reverse of a gulp of air. ”I mostly just felt sorry for her.”
“Ann, was she as bad?” I asked.
“Worse. There are people all over this town with her teeth marks in them. Your mother included.”
“What?” My hands began to sweat and the back of my neck went cold.
“Your mom was tutoring her and Ann didn’t understand. She completely lost it, pulled some of your momma’s hair out, and bit into her wrist. Hard. I think there had to be stitches.” Images of my mother’s thin arm caught between tiny teeth, Ann shaking her head like a dog, blood blossoming on my mother’s sleeve, on Ann’s lips. A scream, a release.
A little circle of jagged lines, and within, a ring of perfect skin.
“How do you lash out?” We were near my mother’s house now, and my high was in full bloom. My hair swished on my shoulders like warm water and I swayed side to side to no particular music. A snail shell lay on the edge of the sidewalk and my eyes looped into its curlicue.
“You know. You know how sometimes you need to hurt.” She said it as if she were selling a new hair product.
“There are better ways to deal with boredom and claustrophobia than to hurt,” I said. “You’re a smart girl, you know that.” I realized her fingers were inside the cuffs of my shirt, touching the ridges of my scars. I didn’t stop her. “Do you cut, Amma?”
“I hurt,” she squealed, and twirled out onto the street, spinning flamboyantly, her head back, her arms outstretched like a swan. “I love it!” she screamed. The echo ran down the street, where my mother’s house stood watch on the corner.