The Virgin Suicides Study Guide

The Virgin Suicides

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

The Virgin Suicides is a 1993 novel by Jeffrey Eugenides about the five daughters of the Lisbon family and their eventual suicides. After their youngest daughter Cecilia kills herself, the over-protective parents begin to shield their daughters from sex and eventually take them out of school. The neighborhood watches as their lives deteriorate and the family becomes increasingly reclusive. Eventually the remaining four girls commit suicide. The novel, told from the point of view of the boys, contains themes of freedom, control, lust and death.

The Virgin Suicides Book Summary

As an ambulance arrives for the body of Mary Lisbon, a group of anonymous neighborhood boys recall the events leading up to her death.

The Lisbons are a Catholic family living in the suburb of Grosse Pointe, Michigan during the 1970s. The father, Ronald, is a math teacher at the local high school. The mother is a homemaker. The family has five daughters: 13-year-old Cecilia, 14-year-old Lux, 15-year-old Bonnie, 16-year-old Mary, and 17-year-old Therese.

Without warning, Cecilia attempts suicide by slitting her wrists in the bathtub. She is found in time and survives. A few weeks later, their parents allow the girls to throw a chaperoned party at their house in hopes of cheering Cecilia up. However, Cecilia excuses herself from the party, goes upstairs, and jumps out of her bedroom window. She is impaled on the fence post below, and she dies almost immediately.

The Lisbon parents begin to watch their four remaining daughters more closely, which isolates the family from their community. Cecilia's death also heightens the air of mystery about the Lisbon sisters to the neighborhood boys, who long for more insight into the girls' lives.

When school begins in the fall, Lux begins a secret romance with local heartthrob Trip Fontaine. Trip negotiates with the overprotective Mr. and Mrs. Lisbon to take Lux to a homecoming dance, on the condition that he finds dates for the other three sisters. After winning homecoming king and queen, Trip persuades Lux to ditch the group to have sex on the school's football field. Afterwards, Trip abandons Lux, she falls asleep and misses her curfew. In response, Mrs. Lisbon withdraws the girls from school and keeps them home. Mr. Lisbon also takes a leave of absence from his teaching job, so that the family can be together all the time.

Through the winter, Lux is seen having sex on the roof of the Lisbon residence with unknown men at night. The community watches as the Lisbons' lives deteriorate, but no one intervenes. After months of confinement, the sisters reach out to the boys across the street by using light signals and sending anonymous notes. The boys decide to call the Lisbon girls and communicate by playing records over the telephone for the girls to share and express their feelings.

Finally, the girls send a message to the boys to come over at midnight, leading the boys to believe they will help the girls escape. They meet Lux, who is alone. She invites them inside and tells them to wait for her sisters while she goes to start the car. As the boys wait, they explore the house. In the basement they discover Bonnie hanging from a rope tied to the ceiling rafters. Horrified, the boys flee.

In the morning, the authorities come for the dead bodies, as the girls had apparently made a suicide pact: Bonnie hanged herself, Therese overdosed on sleeping pills, and Lux died of carbon monoxide poisoning after sealing herself in the garage with the car running. Mary attempted suicide by putting her head in the gas oven, but failed. She lives for another month, before she ends her life by taking an overdose of sleeping pills. The adults in the community go on as if nothing happened. Local newspaper writer Linda Perl notes that the suicides come exactly one year after Cecilia's first attempt and describes the girls as tragic creatures so cut off from life, that death wasn't much of a change.

After the funerals, Mr. and Mrs. Lisbon leave the suburb never to return. The Lisbon house is sold to a young couple from the Boston area. All the furniture and personal belongings of the Lisbons are thrown out or sold in a garage sale. The narrators scavenge through the trash to collect mementos. Later, as middle-aged men with families, they lament the suicides as selfish acts from which they have not been able to emotionally recover. The novel closes with the men confessing that they had loved the girls, but that they will never know the motives behind the suicides.

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