In addition to having a penchant for publishing blood, Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) loves rare books and classic literature.
In season 3 of YOU, he manages to get a job at the local library as a book curator by utilizing the skills that Mooney (Mark Blum) taught him in the bookstore in New York as a teenager.
His position at the library is strategic as it gives him access to yearbooks. He then repairs them and sends them to Ellie (Jenna Ortega) so she can sell – which is the least he could do after his wife brutally murdered her older sister and left her without a guardian in season 2.
In addition to his work at the library, Joe is often seen reading in his own time. What some viewers may not have realized is that the majority of books and literary references throughout the third season also herald the tragedies that are coming.
Newsweek has a full summary of all the great books Joe reads in YOU Season 3, and the hidden meaning behind them.
Joe Goldberg’s reading list in YOU Season 3
Episode 1 – “And they lived happily ever after”
Order: The great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Means: In episode 1, Joe reads The great Gatsby to his son Henry, who continues to throw up over the sides. As Henry’s projectile throws up, Joe reflects on his lack of connection to his son and blames it for his past.
In Fitzgerald’s classic novel, Gatsby is fixed with a green light at the end of his dock and thinks it’s a character from Daisy Buchanan (who lives across the bay in East Egg). Ever since the couple met during the war, the protagonist has kept hoping that they will be reunited and he will be able to offer Daisy everything she wants once he has improved his social status; literally everything he does after that point is for her and he gets desperate when things start to clear up.
Similarly, Joe refers to his neighbor Natalie (Michaela McManus) as “the green light at the end of my dock.” Of course, like Gatsby’s fantasy, the illusion is soon shattered when Love (Victoria Pedretti) ends up killing her rival.
In addition to the reference to green light, there are other similarities between YOU and The great Gatsby, in it, just like when Tom Buchanan frames Gatsby for Myrtle Wilson’s death, Joe goes out of his way to hide his wife’s crimes instead of holding her accountable for his actions.
One cannot help but be reminded of Fitzgerald’s famous quote at the end of the novel: “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed things and creatures and then withdrew in their money or their enormous carelessness or whatever it was , who kept them together and let other people clean up the mess they had made. “
Order: Tender Is the Night, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Means: Also by Fitzgerald, Tender Is the Night is a story about marriage and infidelity, and is the book Natalie chooses for Joe at the library.
Joe wonders if the book is an “invitation or a warning” that heralds their (almost) affair towards the end of episode 1.
Later in the season, Joe cheats with Marienne (Tati Gabrielle), and Love embarks on a marital affair with Natalie’s stepson, Theo (Dylan Arnold).
Episode 2 – “So I Married An Ax Killer”
Order: Wild flowers in New York, by Andrew Garn
Means: To hide the fact that he steals a rare copy of Peer Gynt for Ellie, Joe pretends he wants a book called Wild flowers in New York.
While that may just be coincidence, the title seems to anticipate the events of the season finale, where Love tried to poison Joe with wolfsbane, a wildflower.
Episode 3 – “Missing White Woman Syndrome”
Literary reference: Lady Macbeth
Means: In section 3 of YOU, Joe refers to love as “Lady Macbeth” as she tries to find ways to frame Natalie’s husband Matthew (Scott Speedman) as the killer.
Lady Macbeth is a character from William Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth, who convinces her husband to commit regicide.
Although Joe does not kill Matthew, there are plenty of other cases YOU where love encourages Joe to kill.
Lady Macbeth also dies offstage in the play’s final act in an apparent suicide, while Love’s death in the season finale was set up to look like a murder-suicide.
Episode 4 – “Hands over Madre Linda”
Order: Peer Gynt, by Henrik Ibsen
Means: Peer Gynt is a five-act play by a Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen. It also addresses themes of procrastination and avoidance.
As mentioned above, in section 2, Joe steals a copy of Peer Gynt for Ellie. However, he is later captured by Marienne in episode 4, after she realizes it is missing.
When he returns the book, Joe thinks of all the ways he and Love could handle Gil (Mackenzie Astin), who they have kept trapped in the basement of the bakery.
The couple’s inability to make a decision (combined with the disturbing news they gave him about his son) results in Gil taking his own life. They then frame him to Natalie’s death and plant a fake suicide note next to his body in his house.
Literary reference: Richard Yates
Means: In section 4 of YOU, Compliments Theo Joe on their clean lawn and pristine garden. He says Joe has a “Richard Yates level of attention to detail.”
Yates is an American author whose debut novel Revolutionary path told the story of a young couple who moved to the suburbs of the East Coast, just as Joe and Love moved to Madre Linda.
Revolutionary path also deals with parenting issues and childhood trauma, especially the character Frank’s feelings of failure and guilt. Joe, too, is plagued by guilt over how much he and Love expose baby Henry to.
Episode 8 – “Swing and a Miss”
Order: More than two, by Eve Rickert and Franklin Veaux
Means: More than two: A practical guide to ethical polyamory is a non-fiction book on healthy, non-monogamous relationships.
By the exit of YOU Season 3, Episode 7, Sherry (Shalita Grant) expresses her and her husband Carys’ (Travis Van Winkle) interest in opening their relationship with Love and Joe, with a night full of sex between the four on the cards.
In section 8, Joe begins to read More than two, after agreeing to open his and Love’s relationship with Sherry and Cary. He has no desire to keep the spark alive with Love, but rather hopes it will distract her while making designs on Marienne.
Episode 10 – “What is love?
Literary reference: The Lottery, by Shirley Jackson
Means: In the last paragraph, Joe’s inner voice recounts: “Shirley Jackson once said that Suburbia is where they begin to separate.”
The quote is from Shirley Jackson’s short story, The Lottery, about a small fictional town that observes an annual ritual in which a human life is randomly sacrificed to cleanse the city of all evil, to allow for good things.
The fact that the murder takes place in a small, quiet town emphasizes that dark and violent things can happen anywhere, just like in YOU‘fictitious by Madre Linda.
The full quote from The lottery reads, “I suppose it’s starting to happen first in the suburbs,” and when Brad said, “What’s starting to happen?” she said hysterically: ‘People are starting to go apart’. “
In the finale, things come to a standstill, with Joe eventually killing his wife and burning their white picket fenced house to the ground with love inside. Joe then waves goodbye to the suburbs and heads to Paris, France, in another attempt to start his life all over again.
YOU Season 3 is now streaming on Netflix.
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