One of the most shocking choices Gillian Flynn makes in her novel is the decision to present a woman as a dangerous, manipulative sociopath. Amy Elliott Dunne is obsessed with power and control, and she has no hesitation about lying and even murdering if these actions suit her purposes. This representation of a female character led to some critics and readers asserting that Flynn's novel was misogynistic, a charge that the author strongly disagrees with.
However, the character of Amy Dunne can be placed within a tradition of female villains. One significant example of this tradition is the character of Lady Macbeth in William Shakespeare's play Macbeth (1606). The character of Lady Macbeth, much like Amy, is strong-willed, ambitious, and intelligent. She is in fact more interested in power than her husband, and she skillfully persuades her husband to kill the king so that the two of them can seize power instead. Lady Macbeth reflects an important feature of the female villain: she usually acts indirectly and in secret, often manipulating others to do her bidding. Lady Macbeth does not kill the king herself, but she uses her powers of psychological manipulation to persuade her husband to do what she wants him to do. Likewise (although Amy does kill Desi herself) Amy tends to rely on a web of secrets, deceptions, and lies to get what she wants.
Another important tradition of female villains arose in England in the mid-1800s with the popularity of a type of novels known as "sensation novels." Examples include Lady Audley's Secret (1862) by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, East Lynne (1861) by Ellen Wood, and Armadale (1864) by Wilkie Collins. In all of these novels, women orchestrate complex deceptions, often committing and covering up crimes along the way. Much like Gone Girl, there is typically a mystery plot in which the reader is uncertain about the accuracy of events being described and unclear about which characters to trust. Like Amy, the female villains in sensation fiction often pretend to be loving and devoted wives and mothers, and rely on this perception in order to hide their crimes. These villains were also often very beautiful, which made it easier for them to persuade people of their innocence. Sensation novels presented female villains in a negative light, but also drew attention to the circumstances which might make a woman resort to crime: because women in the nineteenth century had few legal rights and opportunities, schemes, lies, and criminal behavior could be their only option. Amy is clearly a more modern and empowered woman, but she also feels trapped by social expectations of how a woman should behave, and this influences her behavior.
By the twentieth century, the rise of the Hollywood film industry led to another model of female villain: the femme fatale. These female characters were usually beautiful and seductive. They used their beauty as a tool in order to carry out plots and were often involved directly or indirectly in murder. Femme fatales often made their aura of danger explicit, and yet were so seductive and charismatic that people were drawn to them anyways. Amy embodies this tradition in that, even after Nick sees her for what she truly is, he still feels a lingering attraction to her.