The novel ‘Virgin Suicides’ is a book showing explicit adolescent trauma in a suburban setting in the early seventies. The story revolves around suicides of five sisters aged between 13 and 17 and was told by a collective voice of the neighborhood boys; 20 years after the events had taken place.
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The boys were fascinated and infatuated with the girls and it was after 20 years that they told the story and tried to understand why the girls committed suicide. The story not only showed the unhappiness of the teenage girls and boys and the challenges of adolescence, but also brought out other themes like the impermanence of memory, horror of mundane, American obsession with happiness and impossibility of knowing someone else.
The theme of degradation of an ideal suburbia came out more strongly in this book than any other theme. The Lisbon sisters were stifled by the high moral expectations and the protected lives in the suburban. Their draconian mother, religion, the aloof neighbors and society at large held the girls’ lives captive; this is seen when one girl says, “We just want to live if only people would let us,” (Eugenides, 130).
The suburban neighborhood was supposed to protect the inhabitants from the declining city life, its corruption and extreme aggression. From the neighborhood boys, you are able to understand exactly what the suburbanites were escaping from, “It had to do with the way the mail was not delivered on time, and how potholes were never fixed, the thievery at City Hall, the race riots or the 801 fires set around the city on Devil’s night,” (231).
This is further seen when one of the boys from the collective voice says, “occasionally we heard gunshots coming from the ghetto, but our fathers insisted that it was only cars backfiring,” (Eugenides, 36).
Suburbia was meant to offer protection and when the girls died by their own hand; it was apparent to the community that suburban had let people down. It is seen that isolation is inherent in suburban regions and that was the main cause of the girl’s unrealized lives. It managed to escape the corruption of the city but it created an environment which was even worse.
Everybody minded their own business; there was always the delusion that everything was perfect even when it was not. The only people who truly seemed to care about the well-being of the girls were the neighborhood boys who were highly fascinated by them.
For the suburban dwellers, the downfall of the community began with the girl’s suicide. This is seen when the narrator said:
Everyone we spoke to dated the demise of our neighborhood from the suicide of the girls. Though at first people blamed them, gradually a sea change took place, so that the girls were seen not as scapegoats but as seers. More and more, people forgot about the individual reasons why the girls may have killed themselves, the stress disorders and insufficient neurotransmitters, and instead put the deaths down to the girls’ foresight in predicting decadence, (243-44).
The reputation of the suburban was apparently of more concern to the community than the death of the Lisbon girls. The community was self-centered and all it did was sit and worry about its self-reflection.
When Cecilia first attempted to commit suicide, that was the first cry for help but no one paid attention; no one took a step to help that girl, even the physician who treated her when she was at the hospital after slitting her wrists. He wondered and in fact questioned why she did it, but that is all he did. When Cecelia said to him, “you’ve never been a 13-year-old girl,” (Eugenides, 5), He should have taken the initiative to do everything a person in his society should have been capable of doing.
The suburban lifestyle was one that advocated for every man for himself. When the girls were pulled out of school, no one in the community intervened because being in the suburban it would have been considered meddling and that was left for the city dwellers. People in the suburban went to school, and the fact that Mrs. Lisbon chose to keep her girls at home showed just how much the ideal suburban was degrading.
When Cecilia died, Mrs. Lisbon’s housekeeping stopped, she left her other children to do all the household chores, which was unheard of in the suburban. That was brought out when the narrator in the book recalled, “The house receded behind its mists of youth being choked off and even our parents began to mention how dim and unhealthy the place looked,” (143). Dust collected on windows, garbage piled up and the curtains of the house never opened. That was exactly the opposite of what you would expect in an ideal suburban setting.
Eugenides book and themes in general are true to life, powerful, heart-rending and morbid. As the book continues, one is drawn to share the obsession of the neighborhood boys for the Lisbon girls and compelled to unravel the mystery surrounding them.
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Eugenides, Jeffrey. The Virgin Suicides. New York: Warner Books, 1993. Print.