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Literature: The Goldfinch
The Goldfinch is a Pulitzer-winning 2013 novel by Donna Tartt, the author of The Secret History. When young Theo Decker's mother is killed by Western Terrorists in an attack on a New York art museum, Theo finds himself moving between a variety of guardians, including his mother's wealthy friends and an abusive father with a gambling compulsion. All the while Theo makes a number of quirky and unusual friends, including an elderly antiques dealer, an irreverent, globe-trotting druggie named Boris, and his true love Pippa. One overlying current defines his life: the stolen painting of a goldfinch that Theo carries with him from the museum where his mother was killed, and his fear of being caught.


This work provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Theo's father, and Boris' family as well
  • Affably Evil: Mr. Silver - despite his profession and threats to Larry's life, he is consistently and sincerely praised by both Larry and Boris for being a great guy.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Theo manages to feel pity for his father after it's all said and done.
  • The Alcoholic: Larry Decker, Boris's father, and Boris himself.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Kitsey is in love with a deadbeat conman. Theo's father, an irresponsible gambler, is in a relationship with Xandra. Boris has a number of conquests to his name. Theo, something of a bad boy himself, also notes that he has no shortage of romantic opportunities.
  • Ambiguously Bi: Theo and Boris have a single experiment with bisexuality as teens. Theo feels awkward about it afterwards, but Boris is unfazed. This trope is a theme in Tartt's works.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Theo and Boris wonder if Hobie is gay, since he seems to have no love life. Theo isn't sure whether Hobie is discreetly involved with a woman or just very close friends.
  • The Artful Dodger: Boris to a "T"
  • The Beautiful Elite: The Barbours are a wealthy, elite and beautiful family.
  • Big Applesauce: Most of the action takes place in Manhattan. Theo writes that until age 13 he had only been outside of New York City for 8 days.
  • British Teeth: Theo notes that Boris, who has lived all around the world, has grey, crooked and "un-American" teeth. In adulthood, Boris has received a new set of pearly white, very American chompers.
  • Character Filibuster: Hobie has a huge one about art in the last chapter after Theo confesses his secrets.
  • Deadly Road Trip:Amsterdam
  • Death Is Such an Odd Thing: Theo's reaction to the death of his mother
  • Department of Child Disservices: Theo's social workers in New York after his mother's death are distant and incompetent.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Crossed by Theo's father after he is unsuccessful in obtaining Theo's educational fund to pay off his debts.
  • Drugs Are Bad: Downplayed. Theo and Boris take quite a lot of drugs from their early teens and on. While it doesn't send them into a Afterschool Special-style tailspin of self-destruction, it still has a deleterious effect on their lives. In adulthood, Theo has become a Functional Addict who struggles with getting off the pills.
  • Emotionless Girl: Mrs Barbour is an adult example. She never seems to express any emotion and always has a detached and proper demeanor. However, she becomes more emotional after her husband dies.
  • Everyone Loves Blondes: Kitsey is admired as extremely beautiful and has platinum blonde hair.
  • Evil Debt Collector: Mr. Silver, who goes so far as to communicate threats to Larry through teenage Theo.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Lucius Reeve
  • First Girl Wins: Played with. Theo falls instantly in love with Pippa at the age of 13, but they never get romantically linked. In the end, we don't learn whether he'll end up with her.
  • Freak Out: Theo's sense of guilt and fear of being caught clash with his fondness for the stolen painting
  • Functional Addict: Theo as an adult has a pill addiction, but still manages to keep his life together, or at least look like he does.
  • The Gambling Addict: Theo's father fancies himself a big-shot gambler, but he's heavily in debt and convinced that his next shot will take him all the way.
  • Gentle Giant: Hobie is frequently described as a giant of a man. He has a sedate, kind and almost meek personality, preferring quiet meals with close friends and working in his shop.
  • Green-Eyed Monster:
    • Theo is intensely jealous of Pippa's boyfriend.
    • A teenage Theo bitterly resents that Boris, with whom he has been inseparable, takes up with Kotku.
  • Heroes Prefer Redheads: Theo has a lifelong crush on Pippa. He frequently mentions her red hair.
  • Heroic BSOD: Theo at several points in the story, especially in Amsterdam.
  • Hopeless Suitor: Theo is hopelessly in love with Pippa, but she doesn't give him the slightest bit of encouragement. In the end it's revealed that she does love him, but thinks that a relationship between them could be disastrous. It's left open whether they do decide to get together.
  • Informed Attractiveness:
    • Theo spends some time talking about how attractive his parents were.
    • Kitsey is described as flawlessly beautiful by several characters.
    • Pippa is described as pretty, but not as classically attractive as Kitsey
  • Kosher Nostra: Theo's father owes money to a Jewish loan shark who dresses like a cowboy.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Subverted by Pippa, who is quirky and just as damaged as Theo. He's hopelessly in love with her, and a relationship with her just might finally make Theo happy, but she's hardly ever around and never becomes romantically involved in him, though the future remains open.
  • My Nayme Is: It's "Xandra," not "Sandra." Theo finally discovers that her legal name is actually still Sandra.
  • No Ending: In the end, the painting issue is resolved and Theo talks about the lessons he's learned about life, love and beauty, but most other plotlines are unresolved: Does he end up with Kitsey or Pippa? Does he manage to smooth over the issue with the chimeras and Lucius Reeve?
  • Parental Favoritism: The Barbours each have a favorite child of their four.
  • Romantic False Lead: Both Theo and Pippa become involved with "safe" romantic partners, but Theo is in love with Pippa. Theo's fiance is also in love with someone else. Whether they'll all choose a safe life of comfort or a passionate and risky life is left unresolved.
  • Smoking Is Cool: Boris exemplifies this trope
  • Shout-Out:
    • Theo drops the names of a wide range of shows, books, authors, and films that he enjoys.
    • The Goldfinch is a real painting and takes a central role in the plot.
    • At Theo's engagement party to Kitsey, one of the guests is Francis Abernathy from Tartt's previous book The Secret History.
  • Time Skip: After following Theo's life very closely from the ages of 13-16, the the story jumps about eight years,
  • The Unfavorite: Andy Barbour is the odd man out in his family.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Theo, so very much.
  • Viva Las Vegas: Theo's father Larry moved to Vegas after his divorce to become a professional gambler. He lives in a derelict McMansion and is heavily in debt to local thugs.
  • Western Terrorists: an attack by unnamed violent right-wing extremists is the impetus for the rest of the events in the novel. We never do find out much about who they are or what they want.
  • Why Did You Make Me Hit You?: Boris makes this excuse to Theo after Boris's girlfriend comes to school with a fat lip.
  • Xtreme Kool Letterz: Xandra (not "Sandra") spells her name with an X in a rather silly attempt to be edgy.
The Goddess TestLiterature of the 2010sGone Girl

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