The Virgin Sucides by Jeffrey Eugenides

Liberation In Eyes of Yourself


[(Essay June 15 2009)In the following criticism G.N analyzes how Jeffrey Eugenides uses scenes of suicide, induced faith and needless limitations to illustrate the human drive for freedom in his novel The Virgin Suicides.)]

Through the pages of The Virgin Suicides we gain knowledge into a world of passion frustrated into limited space. Eugenides gives a third eye into the well disguised world of depression by giving an outsiders perspective, which is the most common form seen unless a personal experience. He does this by instead of telling the story from the Lisbon sisters perspectives he tells it from the view of a clan of boys who watch the girls from a distance; they are consumed by their curiosity about the girls and their beauty. It is from the boys reconstruction of the Lisbon girls suicides that we see how suicide is the ultimate act of free will. Along with the Lisbon's parents misuse use of power over the girls that show a strong need of liberation.

Euginides description of the first suicide is Cecilia, the youngest sister at 13, who's first attempt at taking her life is rendered futile. While at the hospital Eugenides writes of a conversation of between Cecilia and her doctor.

"What are you doing her, hunny? You're not even old enough to know how bad life gets." and it was then Cecilia gave orally what was to be her only form of a suicide note, and a useless one at that, because she was going to live: " Obviously, doctor" she said " you've never been a thirteen year old girl." (Euginides 7)

By this conversation we see Cecilia's stubborn nature and her drive toward freedom. By her telling the doctor not what he expects we are able to conclude her want to make her own choices. Cecilia's choice to commit suicide again shows her passion toward freedom. We see this when Eugenides writes the conversation between Cecilia and her mother directly before her second suicide attempt.

"...she asked if she could be excused...She kept pulling on the bracelets, until Mrs. Lisbon said, "if thats what you want, Cecilia. but we've gone to all this trouble to have a party for you." Cecilia tugged the bracelets until the tape came unstuck. Then she froze. Mrs. Lisbon said, " Alright. Go up then. We'll have fun without you." As soon as she had permission, Cecilia made for the stairs..."(Eugenides 29)

We saw by Cecilia's first venture she attempted to commit suicides without anyone's approval except her own so to have it be completely her own decision . In Cecilia's second attempt we see her now ask for permission indirectly to her parents which show the amount of control the Lisbon parents have over the girls and to what lengths Cecilia will go to to attain freedom. We see Cecilia being willing to obey her parents once last time if it means that she may be free of them.

The Lisbon parents, Eugindes describes them as being "... leeched of color, like photographic negatives..."(Eugenides 8) Mrs. Lisbon is extremely strict she continually denies the girls any flirtatious materials such as make up which drives Lux, one of the most rebellious of the Lisbon sisters to hide her make up in a sock tied up under the sink. Which shows Lux's need to have something of her own.

Mr. Lisbon is a math teacher, a person who's meant to bring to light to problems and solve them by communication. However we see by his reaction to Cecilia's funeral his need to be sweep under the rug any and all problems. As the neighbors come to the Lisbon household to pay their respects we see Mr.Lisbon only talk to them about baseball. By his refusal to acknowledge Cecilia's death he is denying fact in order to free himself from the truth.

When life is dictated to people it brings them to incomprehensible choices. It is suicide which is the decision that anyone can make which is completely their own. Jefferey Eugenides uses scenes of suicide and extreme limitation to show how the human thirst for freedom can be a tragic plot.

(G.N. 2009)


The Virgin Suicides by Jeffery Eugenides
“A Most Deadly Virus”

[(Essay June 10, 2010) In this essay A.H. analyzes how Jeffery Eugenides uses course of events, diction, and characterization to convey how suicide can be associated with a virus and be a catalyst for destruction in the novel The Virgin Suicides.]

Can a mental disturbance be spread between people, and even go on to influence a whole community? The scrutiny that has been made of suicide has left people with various conclusions and opinions on the sorrowful matter. Some mark it as cowardly and selfish, others demand that it is a sin, and still others look upon it with sad eyes and empathy. In the book, The Virgin Suicides, Jeffery Eugenides has suggested a new concept of suicide. He shows the affair as a virus; it spreads rapidly, though it has different affects on different people, and it deteriorates a small suburban town.

The foundation of this notion is conceived with the studies of Dr. Hornicker. Though he is not the only one who is fascinated by the behavior and strangeness of the girls, his writing intrigues people because it offers simplicity, an explanation of the tragedy so that people can feel they understand. The report states that the girls are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and that it is not uncommon for siblings to try to control their grief by also attempting suicide. Though this may have not been his intent, the message that was received was that Cecilia’s “suicide, from this perspective, was seen as a kind of disease infecting those close at hand. In the bathtub, cooking in the broth of her own blood, Cecilia had released an airborne virus which the other girls, even in coming to save her, had contracted. No one cared how Cecilia caught the virus in the fist place. Transmission became explanation—Contagious suicide made it palpable.” (Eugenides 152).

Though this is the first obvious wording, diction, of the concept, it is not the first or last mentioning of it. Cecilia’s death occurred “in June, fish-fly season when each year our town is covered by the flotsam of those ephemeral insects. Rising in clouds from the algae in the polluted lake, they blacken windows, coat cars and streetlamps, plaster the municipal docks and festoon the rigging of the sailboats, always in the same brown ubiquity of flying scum” (Eugenides 2). Through the book, the fish-flies are mentioned and taken careful notice of. When the suicides take place, or the isolation and decay of the girls become worse, the flies are present. The flies are noted to be in swarms, similar to that of the plagues that were sent upon Egypt. The fourth plague of Egypt was dog flies which disfigured people and destroyed the land. The fish flies are a foreboding of the disease, as if carriers of the mental destruction. After Cecilia’s death, the fish flies returned and the community tried to compensate. They cleaned off the Lisbon’s house, but to no surprise “they had even more than we did, the walls and inch thick” (Eugenides 54). The plague, the flies, has settled itself upon the Lisbon house once again. They are the start of the decomposition of the suburb, and in association with the decay of the girls. They have brought a virus that has disfigured the minds of the girls, a plague that will continue to spread in different ways. Eugenides often uses the word “scum” when referring to the flies. This immediately makes one think of the most putrid things.

Viruses cause a slow decay of the body, a breakdown of the immune system and a grotesque change in the physique of their host. The Lisbon girls had caught the contagious disease, but by extension, their house had contracted it as well. In the beginning, the house looked as any other did. “Exhibit 1 shows the Lisbon house shortly before Cecilia’s suicide attempt—as the snapshot shows, the slate roof had not yet begun to shed its shingles, the porch was still visible above the bushes, and the windows were not yet held together with strips of masking tape. A comfortable suburban home” (Eugenides 3). The house was healthy and taken care of; life still bustled about its interior. But as the book progressed, the house slowly deteriorated. At first the disease lay dormant in the belly of the edifice, but gradually the workers that kept it running and in shape were slowed by the spore, and the house began to die. The Lisborn’s let the weeds and grass grow, they did not repair the roof, and the yellow of their bricks turned brown. But the decay only continued to get worse until the Lisbon girls were dead. The rot and decay of the house had gotten to the point that “For even as the house began to fall apart, casting out whiffs of rotten wood and soggy carpet, this other smell began wafting from the Lisbon’s, invading out dreams and making us wash our hands over and over again. The smell was so thick it seemed liquid, and stepping into its current felt like being sprayed” (Eugenides 160). The house is showing a change for the worse on its exterior, but this is only a reflection of the interior of the girls minds. They are slowly rotting away, no longer caring about hygiene and life as they once did. They are slowly being consumed.

The changes in the girls are evident. Though they have always been set apart from the rest of the community, the death of their sister caused their condition to worsen. The girls became isolated and receded into the shadows of the world around them, like lepers who were cast from society. The illness had seeped into the mind of the girls. For Lux, it was her view on love. “Lux confused the sexual act with love. For her, sex became a substitute for the comfort she needed as a result of her sister’s suicide” (Eugenides 84). Previous to the death of Cecilia, Lux had been a rebel. But after the death, she became addicted to sex. It was as if she needed, craved it to be able to live. The death had been a harsh blow, and it showed her depression and decaying judgment. Her sisters were also coming apart at the seams. Mrs. Lisbon, apparently fearing for her children’s recovery, pulled them out of school. No one left the house, and the depreciated state of the girls became more apparent. “Our concern increased when we saw Bonnie visibly wasting away—her long neck was thin and white and she had the rickety painful walk of a Biafran, as though her joints lacked lubrication” (Eugenides 158-159). As had been the case with the house, the girls were decomposing on the outside, and the inside. The virus had spread throughout their bodies; it had destroyed them.

After the death of Cecilia, as her sisters faded from the world, the state of the community further crumbled. The trees also contracted a disease, the Dutch elm disease, and they were to “be removed in order to inhibit further spread” (Eugenides 173). The community was falling apart. The suicide was a catalyst, morphing into other diseases and disasters that forced the suburb to slowly die, along with the girls and their home. At one point, after the trees were all removed and time had passed, the narrator stated that “Everyone we spoke to dated the demise of our neighborhood from the suicides of the Lisbon girls—people saw their clairvoyance in the wiped-out elms, the harsh sunlight, the continuing decline of our auto industry” (Eugenides 238). The girls were only the beginning of the decay that overtook the community.

The sickness of the town was linked to suicide in other ways. During the summer, the Debutante’s were to come out to the world at lavish parties. Unfortunately for them, the spores from Cecilia had trickled to the water as well. “It was full-fledged summer once again, over a year from the time Cecilia had slit her wrists, spreading the poison into the air. A spill at the River Rouge Plant increased phosphate in the lake, producing a scum of algae so thick it clogged outboard engines—the swamp smell that arouse was outrageous amid the genteel mansions of the automotive families and the green elevated paddle tennis courts and the graduation parties held under illuminated tents—the O’Connors, however, came up with the ingenious solution of making the theme of their daughter Alice’s debutant party ‘Asphyxiation.’ Guests arrived in tuxedos and gas masks, evening gowns and astronaut helmets” (Eugenides 229). This incident, because of diction and placement of words, suggests a connection of suicide, particularly with the Lisbons, to the events taking place. The quote starts by speaking of Cecilia and the “poison” she has allowed to escape. This is indicating the fact that her suicide attempt caused a sickness and a poison to spread to others, it can be caught. Immediately after this, the author has put an accident that happened to the lake. The placement suggests that the poison from Cecilia had something to do with the spill. The algae that was produce has created a “scum,” this word was a regular adjective to describe the fish flies. This word now associates the pond to the flies, which were also related to the death of the girls. Lastly, there is the stench that has erupted from the lake. One could parallel the smell of the lake to the smell of the house simply because of the awful manner in which it was described; the smell was “outrageous” and strong, enough to get to people as the “invading” smell of the Lisbon’s. One could also think of how the whole suburb is affected by the smell. But the relation of the two occurrences is deepened when the Debutante’s party was Asphyxiation. Lux had chosen death by suffocating, impairing her breathing by that of the gas from the car. The party’s theme was a path to demise. Suicide had caused one girl to leave, and one girl to come out in the same theme.

The suicide of Cecilia was the catalyst, bringing deterioration and death to the suburb and the residents that lived there, some directly and some in parallel ways. Viruses often occur in this manner, bringing deterioration and then spreading to latch itself to life elsewhere. Suicide is seen as the beginning of a “disease” that overtook the town and its people, and turned it into a place of slow decay and fermentation. The author mentions several times the powerful affects of the poison, the disease, that suicide spread into the air. Theoretically, it was explained by a doctor as a contagious disease. But then the symptoms of the disease took place all around the town. The Lisbon girls contracted the disease and began to fall apart. Lux’s mind was affected first, causing her to look for a cure for the confusion that she felt, and Bonnie’s body began to recede to nothing. The girls isolated themselves. Just as a virus does, suicide affected their behavior and their physical appearance. The fish flies, which could be associated with the plague, seemed to be the carriers of the disease. They were always present when the worst events happened, death. They caused the sky to turn back, foreboding. The house was also in the domino reaction. As its residents began to die, so did it. The house’s “skin” changed to an icky brown, it became unkempt, and the smell of rot slowly leaked from its interior, similar to the symptoms that take place during a sickness. The town also caught the tail end of the disease, and linking their causes back to the start of the decay. Jeffery Eugenides suggests that suicide can be seen as a virus that spreads between people because of the sad poison that it inflicts. But trees, houses, and a whole suburb can also catch this sadness and deteriorate as well. One virus allowed others to enter.
A.H. (2010)



Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Serendipity's Writer


[( Essay June 15 2009) In the following criticism G.N analyzes how Jeffrey Eugenides uses Cal's greek mythological roots, vivid contrasts and object orientated names to bring light to the idea of how much destiny plays a role in the novel Middlesex .)]

The turbulence of the teenage years in Middlesex is filled with chaos. Eugenides creates the character of Cal, formerly known as Calliope, which undergoes a gender reassignment. From the start we see by this dramatic change in Calliope's appearance that it was induced by her expressing her true self however because of the gene which supposedly made her that way it is seen that it was not all her choice but rather fate that made her perform it.

We see clearly how Cal realizes destiny's impact and control over his life during this passage:

"The timing of the thing had to be just so in order for me to become the person I am. Delay the act by an hour and you can change the gene selection." The Silver Spoon," (Eugenides 11)

When Cal talks about how such a insignificant thing as time can totally change her life we immediately notice how fate plays a role. Through time, fate dictated Calliope's future. We see this again when Desdemona goes thought the ritual of guessing the sex of the Cal as a baby.

"And then Desdemona was back, taking a different angle: 'God decides what baby is. Not you...'"(Eugenides 13)

Eugenides references back to God to make a strong point of how on the spiritual level Cal's mother has no control over what happens. The foundation of religion among Cal's greek family is very strong. We can see this with Desdemona's comment.

In Middlesex, Eugenides writes about with the incest that occurs between Desdemona and Lefty. Incest is one of the most heavily shunned situations in religion so in a family where so much fate is put on God we are able to see contrast with that since incest is rejected. This contrasts also helps to better emphasize how much fate interacts in the story. If it were not for Desdemona and Lefty's relationship they would not even made it to the United States. These sequence of events which also include Tessie and Milton's incest relationship clearly show the oddities which plague the family are caused by an outside force as it is clear we do not choose who to fall in love with.

Eugenides also names many of the people whom Cal interact with as objects. How we see Calliope's first love begin named as " The Obscure Object" . A person's first love is anything but an object so by Eugenides referring to her as one shows how fate controls the people in the novel much like objects. We even see members of Cal's family even being referred to as object such as "Chapter 11".
Middlesex has many characters realize fate's impact on their life such as Milton:

"Watching from the cab, Milton came face-to-face with the essence of tragedy, which is something determined before you're born, something you can't escape or do anything about, no matter how hard you try" (Eugenides 426)

Despite Milton trying to have a normal life he can't hide his true self or his love which he holds. Eugenides shows hows fate moves people, and that we are merely objects in it's wind.
Consider how Cal explains her life as a silk thread which suggests the delicacy of her life and how deeply effected it is by the slightest change. We see this as Eugenides mentions just how the growing into puberty triggers all the situations which lead into Calliope turning into Cal.

Middlesex brings to the reader bold contrasts, simplified people and allusions to religious references in order to show how fate and destiny influence the very lives of the characters in Middlesex.

(G.N. 2009)



Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides
“Disconnect between the Then and Now”

[(Essay June 10, 2010) In the following essay A.H. discusses how Jeffery Eugenides compares the Old life with the New life in Middlesex through articulate narration]

New and old are quite vague, expansive topics. But the contrast between the two is acknowledged in Book One of Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides. In this section of the novel, the narrator focuses on the past of his family, in particular his grandparents. Throughout the conversant, detailed recap of the history of Cal’s family, and in Book One in general, there are constant comparisons of what was and what is. This deals not only with the lives of the people, but also with the metaphorical new way that America has brought around as well as with science vs. tradition.

As stated, the new ways of science clash with tradition and the old ways of thinking during the portal into the past. The conflicting ideas appear particularly with the Greek women Desdemona and her son Milton. Jumping into the flashbacks, Desdemona and her brother Lefty have begun to develop a romantic relationship, though they are brother and sister. Their traditional ways of life and religious explanations do not coincide with modern explanations for the feelings that pass between the siblings. “The ancients would have explained what Desdemona was feeling as the workings of Eros. Now expert opinion would put it down to brain chemistry and evolution” (Eugenides 34). Desdemona was and her people would have explained her feelings through religion and fate, as if a god had decreed it. But in the times of Cal, modern times, mysteries were beginning to be explained by science. And Dr. Luce and other experts believe that sexuality and attraction can be explained through matters of genes and science. Furthermore, the idea of genes being a controlling factor expands as the confusion with Desdemona’s feelings continue. The narrator states that “Desdemona had no idea what was happening. She didn’t envision her insides as a vast computer code, all 1s and 0s, an infinity of sequences, any one of which might contain a bug. Now we know we carry this map of ourselves around” (Eugenides 37). Of course, what the narrator is talking about now is Desdemona’s gene code and how it comes into play when affecting that of his own genes. Desdemona is a traditional woman and during her times, scienctific discoveries were not as prominent or knowledgeable. Instead of using technology, she predicts the sex of a baby with the circling of a spoon. And her and Tessie, the woman who marries Milton, both prefer spontaneous lovemaking rather then only performing the dead when a thermometer states that ovulation is occurring. The book brings up science quite often because of the defect on Cal’s chromosome 5 that has made him into a hermaphrodite. But the narrator, which jumps around to perspectives of other characters and both past and future times, also interjects the contrasting opinions and ideas of science.

Metaphorically, America is new compared to the old nations and countries of Europe, and its ways of functioning are fresh as well. The narrator allows the reader to see the world from more then one angle, to become acquainted with history along with historical events such as war and the feminist movement that affected the lives of his family. While Cal’s grandparents were trying to flee the country, America was living it’s own life, knowing much less about war then the other places of the world. “In the country they were heading for, America, the burning of Smyrna made the front page for a day or two, before being bumped off by the Hall-Mills murder case—and the opening of the World Series” (Eugenides 62). There is a gap between this new world and the old. In Smyrna, the people are brutally being murdered, while America is more focused on a single murder and sports. The narrator wants this comparison to be made so that one can see the horrifying ways of life, as well as the ignorance that shields those from it. The manner of America is strange, different, but its appearance is as well. When the siblings arrived in America they were greeted by “In the distance, lit by the rising sun, was the skyline of New York. It wasn’t the right shape for a city – no domes, no minarets – and it took them a minute to process the tall geometric forms” (Eugenides 62). The look of America has taken on the modern physique, with buildings that look the same in every city. This is a complete contrast to the small cities and towns from with the two had just come, as mentioned in the above quote. America is living in the present, and the rest of the world continues to follow its old traditions.

Along with this, the narrator often tells how the way life used to be, the cities of Smyrna and Bursa, and then how these places are now. At one time, people could see and smell where people were from, but all of this changed once transportation became faster and easier. With some resentment in his tone, the narrator describes this life through “did I mention how the reek of women mixed with pleasanter smells of almond trees, mimosa, laurel, and peach, and how everybody wore masks on Mardi Gras and had elaborate dinners on the decks of frigates? I want to mention these things because they all happened in that city that was no place exactly, that was part of no country because it was all countries, and because now if you go there you’ll see modern high-rises, amnesiac boulevards, teeming sweatshops, a NATO headquarters, and a sign that says Izmir…” (Eugenides 54). The comparison, the change in the cities, is obvious. It goes from a place of simplicity and life to a city generic to any other. The tone of the change is noted through the narrator’s asking the reader if he had mentioned these key parts of the city, of how it was. And there is a cark sarcasm as he uses adjectives such as “amnesiac” and “sweatshops” to describe the way the city is now. The narrator described several other cities and people in the manner, stating how things were and paralleling this past with the present. There is a definite connection with these comparisons, but at the same time a disconnect.

Furthermore, there are the old and new lives of Desdemona and Lefty. The two siblings were accustom to living in Bithynios, a tiny town on a mountainside where incestuous relationships were common and most everyone was related to another in some way. Back when they were younger, when Turkey was reinvading their homeland and the Greeks were retreating, they were also at a crossroads on their feelings with each other. In the end, the two agreed that if they made it out of their horrific condition alive, they would get married. And Lefty, encouraged by this fact, willed to survive and was able to gain them passage aboard ships leaving Smyrna. They fled there home, their traditions, and their identities. On board the ship, they acted as if they didn’t know each other, and through an elaborate plan, became different people who met, fell and love, and married aboard the ship. “Couldn’t they have said they were already engaged? Or that their marriage had been arranged years earlier? Yes, of course they could have. But it wasn’t the other travelers they were trying to fool; it was themselves” (Eugenides 68). The way in which the narrator tells the story gives empathy to the reader, and a sort of understanding to how the way life used to be. From this fabricated perspective, the marriage of the siblings is no longer an immoral sin, but rather a simple union of two people. It was the way life could be, in certain places where society was not stuck in a strict mind-set between right and wrong. But along with this, the book shows the complete change of the lives of Lefty and Desdemona. They go from living on a mountain and selling cocoons for a living, to traveling to Detroit and creating new identities for themselves. They had a different family, an imaginary family, and a fake history. When they were married “the circling worked like this: as they paced around the deck the first time, Lefty and Desdemona were still brother and sister. The second time, they were bride and bridegroom. And the third, they were husband and wife” (Eugenides 69). Again, their lives have changed. No longer are they merely brother and sister, but now they are man and wife. Harmonious circles have tied their history with their journey.

Lastly, there is the comparison between the forty-one year old Cal, who is a grown man who has grown accustom to his body as opposed to Calliope, who was the little girl still trying to figure out who she was. In Book One, there are only a handle full of instances where Cal talks about himself in the present, instead of with an insightful voice of the past. On one of these such occasions, Cal states that “I am not androgynous in the least—In other words, I operate in society as a man.—I’ve lived more than half my life as a male, and by now everything comes naturally. When Calliope surfaces she does so like a childhood speech impediment. Suddenly, there she is again, doing a hair flip, or checking her nails. It’s a little like being possessed” (Eugenides 41-42). The personality and lives of Cal and Calliope are separate, two personalities with their own mannerisms and thoughts. Though both have possessed the same body and were formed in the same mind, one was in fact the owner of the body when it was younger and the other the current resident. The narrator speaks of Calliope a little like an invader, a past memory reappearing to remind itself what the world is like. This is one of the first views on how life has changed for Cal, but even still he is reminded of the past and what he used to be.

The novel Middlesex, though the copious viewpoints created by the narrator, develops relationships and shows the distance between the present ways of life and those that were. The range of this comparison is small scale to a larger scale. Calliope’s girlish behavior is contrasted to that of what Cal has become now, both of his selves have been a persistent presence in his body. America is often compared to the cities where Desdemona and Lefty are accustom; its appearance is fresh and geometric, while it distances itself from the lives of the rest of the world. These cities and people have changed, though they could once be identified and were different from each other, they have all faded into faces that are similar to that of America. Then, there is science. The world used to be understood through religion, tradition, and healed through herbal remedies. In the modern times, science has become a dominant force to explain the universe. And, significantly, there is the change in the lives of Desdemona and Lefty. Though they once were brother and sister, they relationship has morphed into that of husband and wife. Throughout the first section of the novel, the author compares what was with what is, some as statements and others that show the feelings that abide with these changes.
(A.H. 2010)




The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

Revelations of Outsiders

[(Essay 8 June 2011) In this literary analysis, M.M. explores the Jeffrey Eugenides’ use of point of view in to reveal the central characters in his novel, The Virgin Suicides.]


In The Virgin Suicides, Jeffrey Eugenides places at the center of the novel a family of five sisters, the Lisbon girls. These five distinctly different characters, racked with angst and desperation, Eugenides conceals, leaving a mysterious and troubled tone to follow the characterization of them that ensues from the commencement of the novel. The revelation of each girl is a slow, and ultimately, incomplete one that Eugenides places into the hands of the narrator, an unknown observer, a young neighborhood boy who is among the admirers of the hidden girls.

Without each girl’s first person account, the details revealed by outside characters and told by the narrator form the details of the central characters themselves. The Lisbon girls, whom neighborhood scandal and assumptions surround, are subject to the opinions and stories of many characters who appear only briefly in the novel. These are related to the unnamed narrator in many contexts, and it is he who is to deem their truth and credibility. Eugenides’ narrator acts as a filter of information about the girls, taking the ideas of outside characters and piecing them together to form the picture of each sister.

“We heard reports of the girls walking aimlessly through Eastland, down the lighted mall with its timid fountains and hot dogs impaled beneath heat lamps...Woody Clabault saw Lux Lisbon talking to a motorcycle gang outside Hudson’s...Later, Lux was seen walking home alone, carrying her shoes” (Eugenides 49). Each new detail about any of the girls is provided from a selection of characters that the author does not fully introduce elsewhere, with the exception of a deep insight into the romantic life of young Lux from the older and rebellious boy who fell in love with her. Like a police report, it reads as a collection of statements from various witnesses, some providing important clues whilst others merely relate what is visible. The author’s use of the collective “we” from the narrator shows his intentions to stray away any connection that might be felt toward the narrating character, by using such a general pronoun, alluding at times to the group of neighborhood boys, the high school population, or those who reside in the town. The author places this “we” in the mouth of the narrating voice to illustrate the sisters’ uniqueness, “we” referring to all but them.

From the point of view of the reporter who appears multiple times in interest toward the Lisbon sisters and their suicides, a broad spectrum of summary over their situation is provided, mainly through the news pieces she forms from the limited knowledge she has of them.
The story proceeds by the logic of the many ‘human interest’ pieces that had begun to proliferate at the time. It paints the picture of the Lisbon house in the broadest terms. Phrases such as ‘The tony suburb known more for debutante parties than for funerals of debutante-aged girls’ and ‘The bright bouncy girls show little sign of the recent tragedy’ give an idea of Ms. Perl’s style. After rendering the most cursory description of Cecilia (‘She liked to paint and write in her journal’), the piece solves the mystery of her death by giving way to conclusions... (92)
As Eugenides opens The Virgin Suicides with the brief description of the “last” Lisbon girl’s suicide, he has ultimately provided from the beginning, the ending. The views provided by the characters then are put in place to answer why did the girls do what they did, who were they, that they would each in turn end their own lives. The views, however broad or specific, provide a background of the suicides, Ms. Perl’s suggesting that although Cecilia, “the first to go,” was in a way an average 13 year old girl, there was another side to her kept hidden, where she stored her struggles and emotions. In a later news piece, after the suicides of the remaining four girls, the reporter attempts to explain the girls when they were alive, referencing Mary’s bright sweaters and Therese’s baggy sweatshirts as “signs” of what was to come.

The narrator’s conveyance of the Lisbons lies behind concrete evidence of their being over the years, objects of the girls’ that they had found and kept to help place themselves into the lives of the sisters, in whatever way possible. Jeffrey Eugenides’ use of this (group of) boy(s) to tell the story of Cecilia, Lux, Bonnie, Mary, and Therese is unique, as they do not have a direct role in the lives of these five girls. Apart from living in the same neighborhood and attending the same school, the boys had little to no interaction with them, and this is a part of their deep curiosity in the lives of these doomed beings. Eugenides allows them to piece together the big picture with necessary details and observances, as well as the story of their suicides, but any deep intellectual revealings into their characters are nonexistent, placing them in a very static role.
In the end we had pieces of the puzzle, but no matter how we put them together, gaps remained, oddly shaped emptiness mapped by what surrounded them, like countries we couldn’t name...We knew that Cecilia had killed herself because she was a misfit, because the beyond called to her, and we knew that her sisters, once abandoned, felt her calling from that place, too. But even as we make these conclusions we feel our throats plugging up, because they are both true and untrue. (241)
At the conclusion of the novel, the author’s use of point of view tactics leave it to be truly unknown, exactly who the narrator is or who the characters whom the novel circulates around are.

(M.M. 2011)


Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Referencing the World

[(Essay 8 June 2011) In this literary analysis, M.M. describes Jeffrey Eugenides’ use of allusion to history and culture to construct the plot line and characters of Middlesex.]


Middlesex is a novel with many complex layers and ideas (a grown man’s story of self discovery, a young girl’s struggle, a family’s secret) that Jeffrey Eugenides conveys through allusions to significant historic events and cultural tradition in order to further the plot line and develop the characters and their complex relationship with one another.

Eugenides divides the novel into four “books,” each following a different period of time and a different relationship in the Stephanides family. In Book One, Desdemona and “Lefty” Stephanides play the part of main characters. Eugenides’ reveals to the reader that Desdemona is the grandmother of the narrator, Cal Stephanides, thus being the first generation he tells the tale of. This brother and sister are living outside of Bursa, 1922. This year marked the ending of the Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922). The village they reside in being small, there are not many that they interact with, and certainly few their own age. The author reveals Lefty’s longing for his sister, and after the two decide to marry, they begin the travel to America for a new life. They plan to travel from Smyrna. Eugenides does not directly state the historical facts of the war, no, he does not even mention such an event. As his two characters make plans for a new life and a new country, he introduces a General, on a ship in the harbor. “‘These are the latest reports, Genral...The Turkish cavalry has been sighted 100 miles east of Smyrna...The refugee population is now 180,000. That’s an increase of 30,000 people since yesterday’” (Eugenides 44). The brief conversation between the General and his second in command holds tone of war, and a foreboding sense of conflict that the Stephanides will soon be caught in. September 6, 1922, mentioned by the author, was the re-capture of Smyrna by the Turkish army, the Great Fire of Smyrna, which will haunt Desdemona for the rest of her life. This event, that the characters become involved in, is much more than a historical happening that they come across. It is the ultimate factor to push the two together, and to leave their homeland and never return. The Great Fire of Smyrna causes a brother and sister to marry in incest, it drives immigrants into the United States, it sets the timeline for the generations that follow them.

When the two characters are subject to a new country, the author also brings new cultural events to further their story. The Stephanides, upon arriving in Detroit to live with their cousin, experience the city’s famous cars and factories, prohibition (and bootlegging), as well as new roles for men and women. Each carefully chosen allusion, to places and names, begins to form the events in the pages ahead. Eugenides’ great detail of cultural setting creates a novel that is realistic and accurate, forming characters that experience the world for what it truly is.

In Book Two, the author heavily alludes to the influences and events of the Great Depression and the second World War. Now not only affecting the relationship of Desdemona and Lefty, but of their son, Milton, and his second cousin, Tessie. The Great Depression, occurring after the stock market crash of 1929, is felt throughout the nation during the 1930s. The Depression transports the characters into new homes and new occupations. The author uses World War II to set the background for Milton and Tessie’s young adult lives. Eugenides enrolls Milton into the Navy out of spite for Tessie, and the experiences they both face in the time of such a significant war are reflected in the actions and mannerisms that the author creates in them as the story progresses. The cultural customs set the tone of communication and their interaction, as well as Desdemona and Lefty’s developing characters.

Book Three Jeffrey Eugenides begins in 1960 and it spans the decade as well as the first half of the next. With the 1960s come the third generation of Stephanides, Chapter Eleven and his sister Calliope. Eugenides alludes to much racial tension in their city (Detroit) which is illustrated through small instances of segregation and stereotyping, as well as the views of Milton. In 1967, the race riots of Detroit occur, the author foreshadowing a war of two sides that Calliope will soon have to face within herself. Eugenides identifies these historic events not only by the main actions, but through debating dialogue between characters and the narrator’s conveyance of remembered details. “So was it a riot or a guerrilla uprising?...Believe whatever you want. I was seven years old and followed a tank into battle and saw what I saw” (250). The author afflicts the family with the events of the riots in order to lead them into a gateway for a more successful life.

The character of Calliope begins to fully form with Eugenides’ references to her ancestry in the Greek literature she learns at school. He casts her as Tiresias, the blind visionary of Antigone, in the school’s rendition. Calliope is blind to what she truly will become, the author’s placing of her in this role opens her eyes later on to her true future. In the context of Callie, Eugenides alludes to her Greek roots and troubled body in reference to The Iliad and the Oracle of Delphi, revealing her deeper masculinity and her future.

In each instance of allusion throughout Middlesex, Eugenides is revealing another piece of the story to come, and another factor that will affect any one of the characters in speech, action, or personality. The historical events and cultural mindsets of each time period are not background information, rather, the author chooses them to be the central actions and turning points of the plot.


(M.M. 2011)




Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides


History Plays a Part


[(Essay June 11 2012) The growth and development of the characters and plot connect to the historical events that are simultaneously occurring in the novel, Middlesex]

Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides follows the life of hermaphrodite, Calliope (Cal) Stephanides, his parents, and grandparents through the perspective of middleagedCal as an all knowing narrator. The novel portrays the life, hardships, and characteristics of the Stephanides family through the historic events that they endure.
The story of Cal’s grandparents’ lives are accompanied with a Turkish invasion that forces them to leave their home town ofBithynios,Greeceand their parents’ house. Lefty and Desdemona Stephanides are brother and sister but their sibling identities are erased as they flee from their home. Their short, homeless stay inSmyrnaends with engulfing fires, rape, violent murder by the Turks, and a hasty marriage agreement. “But if we lived? You’d marry me then?” (Eugenides 59). Desdemona had agreed only because she was not expecting to survive. Desdemona and Lefty did die inSmyrna, it killed their past and the fires erase the existence of the city as well as their identities. Lefty and Desdemona crossed the Atlantic to go toAmericaand to start over. They fabricated their meeting and romance while reinventing their lives, tricking other passengers as well as themselves. “Their honeymoon proceeded in reverse. Instead of getting to know each other, becoming familiar with likes and dislikes, ticklish spots, pet peeves, Desdemona and Lefty tried to defamiliarize themselves with each other” (Eugenides 71-72). They settle inDetroitin the 1920’s during prohibition. The husband of their cousin, Sourmelina, secretly sells alcohol with Lefty while the two families live together. This secrecy mimics that of Lefty and Desdemona and their efforts to conceal it.
Sourmelina and Desdemona gave birth to their own children within weeks of one another. Tessie was born to Sourmelina and Milton to Desdemona. The Great Depressed caused the paranoia and death of Sourmelina’s husband, forcing Tessie to grow up without a father and in poverty. Desdemona was forced to work to support her growing family which strengthened her fears of mutated children caused by her incestual marriage. Her paranoia drove her to have her fallopian tubes tied, “a fairly novel medical procedure…there were no more children” (Eugenides 165). Desdemona was so terrified that her sin would reveal itself through a mutated child; little did she know that her son carries a recessive mutated gene of the 5th chromosome which when in contact with another could result in a hermaphrodite child. This mutation is not new, but goes back into many generations only making an appearance when it is least expected.
Tessie and Milton, though second cousins and secret carriers of the mutated 5th chromosome, fall in love. Tessie tries to be practical by becoming engaged to a priest andMilton joins the Navy to try to forget her. He barely escapes a sure death by scoring well on a test. Through Milton’s absence, Tessie is forced to realize her real feelings are for Milton and not the priest. She breaks of the engagement and continues the priest’s life of inadequacy. In life as in war casualties must be taken, some escape just in time, while others are smashed against rocks shrouded in darkness.
Calliope and her brother Chapter Eleven grew up through financial problems and racial tensions. A race riot threatened Milton’s store and his family’s way of life. Miltonguarded to small restaurant while people pillaged stores, snipers shot passerby, the coastguard come to break it up, and his young daughter rides her bike behind to try to get to him to help. This rash behavior is characteristic of males who are more prone to risky behavior, which shows Calliope’s 5th chromosomal mutation emerging.
The signs of Calliope’s deformity were not noticeable until the 60’s and her adolescence. The 60’s, a time of sexual experimentation and changes in societal norms is ideal for Calliope’s budding male characteristics. While other girls are menstruating, Calliope’s voice is deepening; she is getting hair above her lip and growing abnormally tall. Other girls are having boy crushes and Calliope can only think about one girl. The 60’s mark an age of growing acceptance of sexual freedom as well as human abnormalities. It is during this time that Calliope begins to realize that she is not like other girls and tries to conceal her differences. Calliope is forced to confront her differences and learns of her genetic mutation. Calliope becomesCaland begins his new life with a different perspective.
Cal and his family live through many disasters and historical events that illuminate the stages in their lives.Cal develops and discovers who he is through his own experiences while also informing about where the mutation originated and its own growth and travels.

(J.H. 2012)


The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides


Structural and Anatomical Decay


[(Essay June 11 2012) The decay of the Lisbon house and their surrounding yard symbolize the deterioration of the girls living within it in the novel The Virgin Suicides]

The Virgin Suicides, by Jeffrey Eugenides follows theLisbon family with their five beautiful and strange daughters through a year and their mysterious suicides. The life of these girls and their emotional states are portrayed through the decay of their house and the suburban neighborhood they live in.
The story is told through the memories and observation of neighborhood boys that live across the street from the Lisbons. The house originally is orderly and neat.
“Mr. Lisbon had hired to sell the house his large family had long outgrown. As the snapshot shows, the slate roof had not yet begun to shed its shingles, the porch was still visible above the bushes, and the windows were not yet held together with strips of masking tape. A comfortable suburban home” (Eugenides 3)

The happily content, overly-strict family vanished with the first attempt at suicide by the youngest daughter of thirteen, Cecilia. She slit her wrists to bleed to death while clutching a laminated picture of the Virgin Mary and later she jumped out a window to be impaled by a fence. The death was foreshadowed by the swarm of fish-flies that coated everything in the neighborhood in darkness and death. The fish-flies “only live twenty-four hours. They hatch, they reproduce, and then they croak. They don’t even get to eat” (Eugenides 2). This was true of theLisbondaughters also. They were not able to live life before they left it.

They rest of the Lisbon daughters, Lux, Bonnie, Mary and Therese were left in varying outlets for grief. Lux, fourteen, used the new freedom from Cecilia’s death, and a therapists advice to lessen the rules, to run wild. She began to wear make-up and tan outside whenever she could. Lux dated countless boys and she felt too many emotions simultaneously feeling nothing at all. Therese hid inside herself and became an empty shell of a person. Bonnie and Mary were less promiscuous than Lux but not as lifeless as Therese. The girls were dying before they took the pills or hung themselves from the rafters. Life had finally gotten to them; it had taken a death for them to realize this.

The girls were slowly dying as the house was visibly decaying. The roof was had too many leaks which they collected with paint cans, clothes and food lay around the house for months without anyone moving them, and brown smudges on the windows were mistaken for curtains before words were drawn into them by bored fingers. The lawn became covered with leaves that would never be raked as the girls are cooped up inside by an overprotective mother. “The house receded behind its mists of youth being choked off, and even our own parents began to mention how dim and unhealthy the place looked. Raccoons were attracted by its miasmic vapors at night” (Eugenides 140). The girls, forced to live on canned goods and brief moments out of the house, start fading away.

The Lisbon girls are seen making a shrine for their sister and making light signals in the middle of the night. “People began to see Lux copulating on the roof with faceless men and boys” (Eugenides 140). The mail is left unread and waterlogged on the porch. A tree in their yard gets its braches cut off, and an indescribable odor snakes out of the house. The house dies as the girls do, gradually and visibly. The girls have lost weight and look pale, like the bricks become dirty and the bushes in front of the porch block the steps.

When the four remaining daughters committed suicide, it did not come as a shock to the community. They had seen it coming as if the girls had already been dead. After their deaths, Mr. and Mrs. Lisbon left and the city cut down the tree. The house was truly dead, along with the girls. A once nice suburban home fell to decay and misuse as five beautiful girls tragically ended their lives, the object and the people are connected through a year of misery, misuse and disrepair. The house was not fixed by theLisbon’s and neither were the girls.

(J.H 2012)