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Literary Topics in “The Bog Girl” by Karen Russell

The Bog Girl is a short story by Karen Russell that was published in The New Yorker in 2016. It describes a fictional scenario where Cillian, a teenager born to a single teenage mother, finds a well-preserved dead girl in a bog and falls in love with her. His environment eventually accepts the situation, though his family has misgivings about the boy’s well-being. However, Cillian’s illusion is shattered when the girl comes back to life, and they part, though he never manages to forget. The Bog Girl explores two major literary topics: the mismatch between belief and reality and the emotional disconnect between parents and teenage children.

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Expectations and Disappointment

Cillian’s obsession with the Bog Girl is a significant part of the reason why other characters do not object to his activities and sometimes end up participating. As Russell mentions, people who used to bully him leave him alone, and closed groups permit his presence in gatherings and even pick the pair up in a limousine. Cillian believes that he understands everything about the girl, studying her and discovering new features daily. In doing so, he makes numerous assumptions such as that his love is protecting the body from decomposing or that he understands love better than his peers. Cillian talks about giving the entirety of oneself to one’s true love even as his studies and dreams suffer and assumes that his beloved agrees.

The fact that the Bog Girl neither consents nor disagrees entirely is partially what makes the acceptance of the reality so challenging for the boy once she comes back to life. Russell notes that he sees the same sort of love for him in her eyes as he has for her, and the two visions conflict. However, the two cannot communicate or understand each other because they do not speak the same language. Cillian’s response to the dissonance is terror; he screams to his mother for help against a person that does not mean him any harm (Russell). The relationship that was built on misconceptions and self-deceptions ends with a bad breakup, from which Cillian never quite recovers mentally.

Distance between Parents and Teenagers

The boy’s love for the Bog Girl brings massive changes to his relationship with his mother, Gillian. The family gets into several conflicts, and the mother is likely driven to drink due to the stress (Russell). She is opposed to the presence of Bog Girl and concerned over the amounts of attention that he gives her, but he rebels against any attempt to get him to stop doing so. The dramatic changes brought about by the incident reveal a side to Cillian’s personality that Gillian was not aware of, one that reminds her of the boy’s father (Russell). At the same time, the teen resents the fact that his mother refuses to see him for the person he considers himself to be, fueling further conflict.

Cillian eventually wins the struggle, getting his mother to relent, but also exposing her weaknesses. His love for her is unchanged, and he understands that Gillian hides a lot of pain that she wants to share but cannot. Cillian tries to support her, but puts his life, mostly the aspect of it that concerns Bog Girl, before his mother, acknowledging her drinking problem but doing nothing about it (Russell). However, the ending reveals that the teen has not changed entirely and still relies on Gillian when confronted with unexpected situations. His first response to Bog Girl’s awakening is to call out “Mom!”, whose instructions he follows without question, and after settling the matter Cillian runs back to her (Russell). Ultimately, the parent and the child have a close and nearly unbreakable bond, even as they grow apart.


The Bog Girl is a story about obsession with an idea and the disconnect between parents and children as the latter grow up. Cillian lets his fantasy about Bog Girl become an obsession and makes his life fall apart because of it. However, his delusion shatters upon inevitable contact with reality, and the fallout affects him for years afterward. Meanwhile, Gillian’s conflict with her son makes him seem like a different person, and Cillian exposes many of her weaknesses and old wounds. However, the two love each other regardless, with the son turning to his mother for help, which she provides without hesitation.

Work Cited

Russell, Karen. “The Bog Girl.” The New Yorker. 2016, Web.

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