Thursday, April 28, 2011

Reaction to the Film

I saw this movie for the first time when I was in grade eleven and had just recently become a fan of Sofia Coppola's films. I can honestly saw that the the title was what drew me to the movie. Anything with self-inflicted death and an implied sexual undertone is right up my alley, because it is guaranteed to create a good story, as questionable as that may sound. Anyways, when I first saw the movie I was really excited to see it.

I remember being drawn into the complex storyline. I watched intently, rewinding and replaying the interesting parts, or the parts I didn't really understand. I remember my stomach lurching when the smallest of the Lisbon boys bumps into the dangling feet of Bonnie Lisbon. I felt so let down and disappointed alongside the boys when they realized that their elaborate fantasy of running away in the family station wagon with the girl was just an elaborate fantasy. Seeing that scene played out in the movie was very moving for me. The picture is sunny and warm, the boys and the girls are packed in the car, smiling and laughing. Lux sticks her head out the window and smiles serenely as they drive away from their seemingly cursed neighbourhood; everyone is happy. Then the let down: the boys find the dead girls and sprint back to their houses. No dialogue is said, until the narrator bleakly repeats "We were never certain about the sequence of events. We argue about it still."

I think the casting of the movie was perfect. James Woods played the awkward, geeky almost shy Mr. Lisbon, while Kathleen Turner was the perfect mix of controlling christian mother and lost soul. A (very) young Josh Hartnett is now the only person I can envision as womanizer Trip Fontaine. Kirsten Dunst played the ideal Lux; she looks and acts so much like a young girl, yet has such a distinct femininity in her actions which is the perfect combination. I've heard a lot of complaints on forums about the movie that the girls who played the Lisbon sisters weren't attractive enough. Mary, Lux and Cecilia are considered attractive, while many thought that Bonnie and Therese weren't appealing at all. I say that the girls didn't need to be movie-star gorgeous, or the realism of the movie would have been compromised. It didn't matter how imperfect the girls' teeth, face shape or body type was, their imperfections were what set them apart from anyone else, and like most girls in their teens, they had lots of them. The boys didn't just love them because they found them beautiful, there was a deeper connection between them.

I loved this movie a lot, and it will continue to be one of my favourite films of all time. However, the book was much better, which is saying a lot. The film did an amazing job of capturing Eugenides' vision, but the story of the Lisbons is much more moving in print then on film.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The End

Like everyone must do when tragedy strikes, the boys start to move on from the Lisbon girls. They attend parties, find new girl interests and commence their summer, but can't seem to forget the foreboding house down the street. The Lisbon house is cleaned and everything that belonged to the girls is thrown out, with the exception of things that the boys managed to salvage: family pictures, make-up, Cecilia's converse, Bonnie's candles, Lux's bra. The remaining two Lisbons pack up their things and move out in the dead of night. The Lisbon house is sold to a young couple and remodelled; it is the Lisbon house no longer.

But still, even after all loose ends are tied up, the boys can't help but linger...

Finishing this book, I had to take a walk for a little while. The ending was so beautiful, and simple. I have no idea why it struck me so much, but that's just the power of this novel. I liken it to the Titanic: when you watch the movie, everyone knows the boat is going to sink, yet when it actually goes under the response is that of heartbreak and shock. The death of the Lisbon girls was inevitable; we knew if from page two. There were no surprises, no twist ending. Nobody rose from their grave, none of the boys even said more than a few sentences to each of the girls through the course of the novel. The girls themselves never did anything profound, barely moved from their bedroom window, barely glanced at us, the reader. And then their lives ended. Why then, does this novel, this story, generate so much emotion from the reader?

"It didn't matter in the end how old they had been, or that they were girls, but only that we had loved them, and that they hadn't heard us calling, still do not hear us, up in the tree house with our thinning hair and soft bellies, calling them out of those rooms where they went to be alone for all time, alone in suicide, which is deeper than death, and where we will never find the pieces to put them back together" (Eugenides 325).

I am so glad I finally read this book.

This is one of the songs by the French instrumental band Air who did an instrumental soundtrack for Soffia Coppola's The Virgin Suicides. This is, in my opinion, the best song on the CD. It's melancholy and dreamy and captures the tone of the novel perfectly.

Jeffrey Eugenides

I'm one of those people that thinks it's a really good idea to research the author after I've finished reading the book. I'm also one of those perpetually lazy people that only do such a thing if the book I've read was really good. This can most definitely be argued as one of those times.

Jeffrey Eugenides was born in 1960 in Detroit, Michigan. He graduated from Brown University, and has his Masters degree in English and Creative Writing. The Virgin Suicides is his first novel, published in 1993. He has another book, Middlesex, which has received paramount amounts of critical acclaim, and which I plan on reading as soon as I can get my hands on a copy. His works have been translated into several different languages, though The Virgin Suicides is his only novel that has ever been made into a feature film. He has won a Pulitzer Prize for his contribution to literature with Middlesex.

I am intensely curious as to the inspiration behind The Virgin Suicides. My curiosity has grown even more, due to the fact that this novel takes place very close to where Eugenides grew up. The Lisbon sisters reside in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, while Eugenides lived as a teenager (almost in parallel) in Detroit.  Though many sources state that he has been reluctant to discuss his private life, it is certainly uncanny that he was a teenager boy at the same time and relatively the same place as the fictional Lisbon sisters. Eugenides hints in some interviews that the story of the Lisbons was written subconsciously about the decline of Detroit's auto industry, and therefore about the decline of a city. This is mentioned somewhat throughout the novel, in subtle details.

To be honest, after watching the movie (before I even opened the book), I was surprised that The Virgin Suicides was written by a male author. A lot of the qualities present in his writing seem almost distinctively female. The subject matter, choice of adjectives and (at times) gentle poetic tone lead to originally assume that this book was by a woman.

Possible Theories

Interestingly enough, the theories made about the Lisbon girls tend to reflect more on their theorists then the girls themselves:

"Platelet serotonin receptor indices in suicidal children" (Eugenides 286)
The doctor assigned to the Lisbon case determined that Mary had low serotonin levels. I find that often professional adults prefer to use science to explain phenomenons, instead of digging deeper to the root emotional cause. Often professional adults are uncomfortable with the idea of teenagers having real tangible emotions that can end in tragedy. I often feel as if they don't want to give young adults that power; the prefer to devalue their emotions, writing them off as being "just a teenager".

"The suicides  were an esoteric ritual of self sacrifice" (Eugenides 289)
"The girls planned the suicides in concert with an undetermined astrological event" (Eugenides 289)
This is theorized by the persistant local news reporter Lydia Perle. Like most adults, she wanted someone to blame, without pointing her finger at herself or people like her. It is highly unlikely that the Lisbon sisters were involved in any sort of ritual self-sacrifice. However, it does direct the blame somewhere else by distracting the community, and like any other reporter, Perle just wants to find a story that will sell to the community. It is sad how adults tend to write off things they can't understand, or events that might leave them with some degree of blame.

"They reacted to the suicides with a mild shock, as though they'd been expecting them, or something worse" (Eugenides 300).
The apathy of adults in this community is astonishing and borderline sickening.

"Something sick at the heart of the country infected the girls" (Eugenides 301)
"People saw their  clairvoyance in the wiped-out elms, the harsh sunlight, the continuing decline of our auto industry" (Eugenides 318)
This theory might have some weight to it. In a way, I think the girls were overwhelmed with the ways of the world they lived in. Eugenides mentions Detroit several times in his explanation of this theory. The way the country, more specifically the city was being run did not work for the girls, and they felt powerless, like many people did at the time to change it. In the society, not enough merit was placed on thoughts and feelings of young girls. They felt left behind and unneeded, in a world that was progressing too fast for them, but leaving so many holes behind.

"They killed themselves over our dying forests, over manatees maimed by propellers as they surfaced to drink from garden hoses; they had killed themselves at the sight of used tires stacked higher than pyramids; they had killed themselves over the failure to find a love none of us could ever be. In the end, the torture tearing the girls pointed to a simple reasoned refusal to accept the world as it was handed down to them, so full of flaws" (Eugenides 320)
I think this is the single most important explanation as to why the Lisbon girls decided to end their lives. They were too good for the world that they lived in, and they could not bear to go through with the long lives ahead of them knowing the type of evil and sadness that frequently occurs on Earth. Cecilia knew all about the unfairness; she wrote in her diary about the endangered species list. The rest of the girls got a taste for the unfairness of the world when their sister died, their parents ignored them and they were alienated at school and by society. Lux got a taste of the unfairness in the world when she met Trip. Isolated and treated as a museum exhibit, I can understand why they would want to be with their departed sister then inside their mother's house.

"So much has been written about the girls in the newspapers, so much has been said over back-yard fences, or related over the years in psychiatrists' offices, that we are certain only of the insufficiency of the explanations" (Eugenides 323)
Eugenides stresses that there is no definite answer. The boys don't know, the media doesn't know. The parents, teachers, former friends, family, doctors and even the girls themselves may not even know why the Lisbon girls all died within a year. There was no note left, no clues, no hidden diaries or telephone calls. The story revolves around the death of youth and beauty, and sometimes youth and beauty die without entrusting an explanation.

The Great Chain of Being

If the reader observes this story from the viewpoint of a Shakespearean audience (as our class discussed with Hamlet) the great chain of being could most definitely be applied. For instance, the Lisbon girls were dreamers, girls that wanted more out of life. They cast away several social expectations. Cecilia wore a wedding gown at all times, and quite literally flipped off the social hierarchy by ending her life. Lux wore revealing clothes and was highly promiscuous. They engaging in some smoking and drinking, and generally withdrew from the community. While in most situations, teenagers are expected to withdraw from their family and community, these girls took it to the extremes. To a Shakespearean audience, they would be breaking the Great Chain of Being, and therefore chaos ensues. The chaos that actually ensues is a neighbourhood falling apart. The Lisbon girls need to die, and the Lisbon parents have to move away for any sense of normalcy to return to the neighbourhood.

While I obviously don't think that this was the theme that Eugenides was aiming for when he wrote the novel, it is a different way of looking at the events that occurred. I do think he was making a point about community in general, that a society is only as strong as it's weakest creature. When members of society ignore the injured, sick or lonely they will eventually fall apart. The Lisbon girls were gossiped about, but never assisted. Everyone stared at their house, making speculations, but no one dared go over and give aid. This was the downfall of the neighbourhood.

Mrs. Lisbon & the Aftermath

As a reader, I would love to know more about Mrs. Lisbon and her history. To me, she is such an intriguing character because the reader never knows what motivates her and why she is so controlling, cold and emotionless. The subtle mentions of her throughout the course of the final four suicides show that she no longer cares about herself, her husband or her daughters. A key moment in this is when she first lets the paramedics into her house: "When the paramedics entered, she remained in the doorway tightening the belt of her robe. She straightened the welcome mat with her toe twice" (Eugenides 283). It is never clearly established if Mrs. Lisbon is aware that the entire neighbourhood has their eyes on her house and her family. As a mother, a role generally thought as one that keeps the family together, she must have been humiliated and upset at the loss of her first daughter. Mothers in general tend to get blamed and also blame themselves when a family falls apart, because they are the provider, the nurturer. Mrs. Lisbon tightened her robe and straightened the mat because she didn't know who might have been watching.

Mrs. Lisbon also follows the stretcher out to the ambulance, as the already-dead Therese is being wheeled away: "In the next second she was running, holding onto Therese's arm and murmuring what some people heard as 'Not you, too,' and Mrs. O'Connor who had acted in college as 'But too cruel.'" (Eugenides 284). Mrs. Lisbon tries as she runs after Therese to put Therese's dead hand out of sight underneath the sheets on the stretcher. This can be interpreted as her trying to perform a motherly act of protection, or as her
inflicting her controlling personality on her daughter even in death.

I like the fact that the same paramedics come to the house on Cecilia's attempted suicide, Cecilia's suicide, the triple suicide and Mary's final suicide. The neighbourhood almost knows them personally: "We still didn't know their real names but we were beginning to intuit the conditions of their paramedic lives" (Eugenides 282). This led me to thinking that a short story from the paramedics' point of view on the subject of the Lisbon sisters would be really compelling; it is interesting to think of the story from different points of views. Perhaps a fully picture could be pained if the boys knew the paramedics personally. Then again,, if they new the Lisbons personally, the picture would have been much clearer to begin with.

Later, Mrs. Lisbon is seen on her back porch, burning a stack of documents. No one knows what the stack of documents could be. This is another mystery of the Lisbon household that unfortunately, we may never know the answer to. Eugenides wants us to feel like the boys felt, still unable to put the pieces of the puzzle back together in an order that makes sense.

The Suicide of Mary Lisbon

Mary, the second oldest, is the second last girl to commit suicide, putting her head in the oven when she hears Bonnie kick her suitcase over.

"They found Mary in the kitchen, not dead but nearly so, her head and torso thrust into the oven as though she was scrubbing it" (Eugenides 284).
 In my opinion, this way of attempting suicide is a sad commentary on the role of women in this society. Perhaps Mary felt constricted by her roles as a woman, and the things that were expected of her as a female of conservative parents living in the seventies; however this is just speculation. Most likely she chose this method because, again, it was quick and relatively clean.

"Technically Mary survived for more than a month, though everyone felt otherwise" (Eugenides 285).
I feel the most empathy for Mary. Not only is she alive after a failed suicide attempt and has to answer to doctors, the community and her parents, but she no longer has her emotional life force, her sisters. She has to live on while they are dead. Though I don't condone suicide really, I feel awful that Mary survived the ordeal. Obviously, she has died inside, and might as well have died. In fact, Eugenides mentions that "everyone thought otherwise," as in they counted her as dead anyways.

"He ran Mary through the same battery of tests Cecilia had taken, but found no evidence of a psychiatric illness such as schizophrenia or manic depression" (Eugenides 302).
I very much applaud this notion in the book. Much of the community was under the impression that the girls, specifically Cecilia were "crazy" or had some sort of illness. They were not clinically ill and they were not insane. They were merely sad young girls, and society has a difficulty understanding or accepting that fact.

"She slept late, spoke little and took six showers a day" (Eugenides)
The relevancy of the six showers a day is peculiar to me. Perhaps Mary is so deep in grief that she feels almost like Lady Macbeth, washing and scrubbing to try to remove the memory of her sisters, the guilt she must feel for living while they died, and the sadness knowing that they have left this world without her. She may spend time in the shower because it is her time of isolation or her time of comfort.

"Mary went down the street and took her first voice lesson from Mr Jessup in a year" (Eugenides  304).
Right after her suicide, Mary takes a singular unpaid vocal lesson from the music teacher down the street that she used to visit regularly. I remember that she was at a vocal lesson in the beginning of the book, while Cecilia had tried to commit suicide for the first time. The vocal lesson almost symbolizes her wanting to reach out, to say something important to the people in her community. It's almost as if she wanted to tell the world about her sisters, to be heard instead of judged for once.

"Mary sang the Nazi song from Cabaret" (Eugenides 304).
The only "nazi" song that comes to mind from Cabaret is "Tomorrow Belongs to Me," sung by the brigade of nazis at one point in the show. The lyrics describe a feeling of new faith, and of working together to create a better future in a new tomorrow. Obviously it has some very serious undertones, as it is sung by the nazis, whose tomorrow means death and destruction for the rest of Europe. Mary may be singing this song because of the outside it expresses feeling of positivity and happiness, but in the context of her singing it, she is referring to her darker purpose. Tomorrow belongs to her; she will finally get to die.

"The last Lisbon daughter, in a sleeping bag, and full of sleeping pills" (Eugenides 309).
Mary Lisbon chose to go like her eldest sister Therese, most likely because it was the most undetectable way of quietly ending her life.

The Suicide of Lux Lisbon

Lux Lisbon died as she lived, cigarette in hand. To me, this symbolizes that her downfall was men, or more loosely, masculine power overtaking her life. It also shows that she was rebellious, even until death. She was the last to go, the best liar, the one who had to talk to the boys as she planned her final moments. Lux chose to go in the family garage, dying of carbon monoxide. Like her sisters, she chose a characteristically female way of ending her life, and the way involving the least pain possible. However, I see her as a strong enough character that she was able to die alone, in a totally different area of the house.

"They found her in the front seat, grey faced and  serene, holding a cigarette lighter that had burned its coils into her palm" (Eugenides 281).
It is for this reason that I don't think the sisters wanted to draw attention to themselves. They never wanted publicity of infamy as some would suggest. They chose to end their lives, not in a bloody spectacle or gory extravaganza, but quietly as they lived, taking their leave from the world in an almost polite manner.

"He spoke of the incredible cleanliness of the girls' bodies, the youngest he had ever worked on, showing no signs of wastage or alcoholism. Their smooth blue hearts looked like water balloons" (Eugenides 287)
I find this line interesting, only because the boys discussed in great detail earlier the state of Lux's frail body, her missing hair and her (most likely) darkened lungs from the sheer amount of cigarettes she puffed daily. On the inside however, her lifestyle had apparently not caught up with her. She was still young and extremely healthy, with her exterior showed signs of being a hardened woman. She was beyond her years on the outside, but still a young girl on the inside.

The Suicide of Therese

Therese's method of choice was sleeping pills and gin. The sleeping pills were probably stolen from her mother, who Lux mentions is an insomniac. Suicide by drugs is the most widely used method of ending life in females. It is usually thought of the most painless choice, however, this is not always true. By ending her life by drugs and alcohol, Therese indicated that she wanted to die painlessly and quietly without drawing attention to herself. It mentions earlier in the novel that she suffered from low self esteem, and this is probably an indication of her choice of methods. She also (presumably) didn't die alone, as she was the first to go. However, this shows that she most likely trusted her sisters the most.

"They were ready to assist each other, if need be" (Eugenides 281).
This quote reflects the grim truth that lies in sisterhood. A bond between sisters is arguably the strongest bond one can have. In the execution of the suicides, Therese died first. After her death, Bonnie kicked out her suitcase from beneath her, which was a signal for Mary to put her head in the oven. This shows that even in death, the sisters were an indestructible force, a potency that could not be broken.

"Another reporter ended his broadcast by reading a letter Therese had written to the Brown's admissions officer only three days before she put an end to any dreams of college...or of anything else" (Eugenides 291).
This factor really puzzles me. It becomes apparent that Therese was most definitely the smartest member of the group of sisters, and the least reckless. She is always associated with science, and Brown is one of the more prestigious schools in the United States. I would love to know what was in the letter that she sent to the admissions officer. Perhaps she wasn't sure if she was going to end her life. Perhaps she wanted to keep an air of normalcy by writing it. perhaps she knew she was going to die, but wanted to pretend that she was interested in a future. Perhaps she wrote it out of boredom.

The Suicide of Bonnie Lisbon

As Chase Buell dances around the downstairs recreation room, in anticipation for all the real life dances he will soon be able to dance with the girls, he doesn't notice when, in the dark, he bumps into a pair of legs swinging from the rafters.

"Above him, in a pink dress, Bonnie looked clean and festive, like a pinata" (Eugenides 280).
Comparing a dead girl to a pinata is just part of the sark yet sad humour that Eugenides uses all too well throughout the novel. The realization that Bonnie is hanging lifeless, like a candy-stuffed toy for children to bash shows that sadly enough, her death with be as meaningless to the community as her life was. I think the fact that she hung herself said that she wanted to draw attention and wanted to speak her suicide loud and clear. She most likely was not afraid of death, and make the bold choice to go first in the suicide "free-for-all".

"We had never known her. They had brought us here to find that out" (Eugenides 280).
I almost felt the sickening realization alongside the boys. How awful they must have felt, to think they could have saved the girls and lived happily ever after, when really the boys were just a pawn in the girls' plans to end their own lives. The boys finally realize that they never really knew anything about the girls, as much as they watched and documented their every public movement. I think this is the moment where the loss of innocence is most apparent for the boys.

"The fat one went inside to get Bonnie down from the rafters, balancing one chair on another like a circus performer" (Eugenides 284).
This is Eugenides and his irony at work again. He is alluding to the spectacle that will be made of the deaths of the Lisbon girls, and how the neighbourhood will soon be turning into a circus; a chaos of people and opinions and judgements.

In hindsight, Bonnie's battered truck lost its association with travel and flight and became only what it was: a drop weight for hanging" (Eugenides 285).
This is also a really sad line. The trunk could have been used as an escape, a ticket to a new life far away from the Lisbon household, a promising new start. However, it was only used as an escape of another kind, the weight of the possessions of all her sisters assisting in her death. The boys had so much hope upon first seeing the suitcase, if only they had known what it was to be used for.


The most important part in the novel deserves an important-ly long summary. The boys begin to see the girls packing through their bedroom window. They are moving with a new purpose; it is determined that the girls are planning to leave, hit the road and escape their household. The boys get a note from the girls telling them to wait for their signal on the night of the escape. The boys assume they are to aid the girls in their escape. They wait in the treehouse all night, until the signal from the Lisbons reaches them. Inside the Lisbon house, they meet Lux. She is dreamy and nonchalant, as always, and smoking a cigarette inside the run-down house. She strangely unbuckles the belt of Chase Buell, as they wait, in total Lux fashion. The boys wait in the living room (as the parents Lisbon sleep) for the girls to come run away with them. They have been assured that the girls are just finishing packing, and Lux is sitting in the car, waiting for them in the garage, as they make their move to escape. As they dream of travelling far away with the girls, they realize that the house has gone eerily quiet.

The boys mention from their watch, that "Cecilia's window had the dank glow of an unclean fish tank" (Eugenides 264). I think the choice of the noun "fish tank" has a significance here. The windows of the Lisbon home are much like those of a fish tank; people are always peering it, dissecting and picking apart the people on the inside. There is no privacy, no place to hide and certainly no sanity. This reminds me of the popular phrase "Life in inside a fish bowl," in which the person who is the unfortunate fish feels as if they are in the public spotlight at all times. It makes me wonder; perhaps the girls let the house become so dirty to visually shield themselves from the prying eyes of the community.

It is also mentioned several times that the summer fish flies (which, if you remember, are born, mate and die within a 24 hour period) are back in the neighbourhood, causing much disgust and general annoyance: "The scum of their dead or dying bodies darkened street and headlights, turned house windows into theatre scrims, poking out light" (Eugenides 264). The fish flies represent an almost literal plague, the plague that only occurs when a death of a Lisbon occurs. Since they cover up the light, and turn the streets dark and covered, the may represent the ignorance of the community, and their failure to observe the happenings that are sadly occurring right on their street.

The boys revisit their childhood while waiting for the final signal from the Lisbon household by waiting in their old tree fort, drinking beer and strawberry wine all throughout the night. Once the signal reaches the boys, they literally dive into action out of their tree house: "Our new height astounded us, and later many said this contributed to our resolve, because for the first time ever, we felt like men" (Eugenides 267). It's a definite timeline throughout the story, watching the young boys being changed to men in the period of a short year. While the girls remain highly unchanged by the boys that love them, the effect that the girls have on the boys is momentous. They go from immature, pubescent boys who watch the girls for fun, to grown up selfless men in love, willing to do anything to save the lives of the girls they admire and treat with the utmost respect. This is not only a coming of age story for the girls, dismayed at entering the sad world of adulthood, but the boys who cross the threshold with them.

An mentioned above, a perplexing incident occurs when Lux meets the boys in the house. She goes to leave, but before she does she takes off Chase Buell's belt and begins to undo his pants. It's an awkward, unexplained moment that is beyond the normal promiscuous inclinations of Lux. Her motivations are unimportant at the moment, but the result is tremendous: "Even though she was doing it to Chase Buell, we could all feel Lux undoing us, reaching out and taking us as she knew we could be taken" (Eugenides 274). This shows that Lux has the power. Lux has always had the power, in all relationships, except that with her parents, with Trip and with herself. From a personal point of view, I feel like Lux treats men the way she does because she is powerless in all other aspects of her life. Sex gives her a false sense of power because it gives her the ability to control men and boys. This power makes her feel as if she is in control of her life. I also think that some people commit suicide to take back the power in their lives...

The state of the Lisbon household also has something to be said for it: "The house had the feel of an attic where junk collects, establishing revolutionary relationships: the toaster in the birdcage, ballet slippers protruding from a wicket creel" (Eugenides 277). This line I find to be quite charming, almost ironic. The relationships of the objects in the house only became closer as the house literally fell apart, though the relationships of the people within the house only got further apart. Instead of spending time together, like the objects which have been so haphazardly tossed together, the family has been isolated and torn apart.

The boys travel downstairs, after waiting several patient minutes for the girls to finish packing. This next scene is somewhat different from the movie version. Ad they descend the staircase, they see the saddest image (in my opinion) the entire novel: "The paper tablecloth, spotted with mice droppings, still covered the card table. A brownish scum of punch lay caked in the glass-cut bowl, sprinkled with flies" (Eugenides 278). It becomes apparent to the reader that the "first and only party" of the LIsbon sisters' short lives was never cleaned up. It remained untouched, as it was when interrupted by Cecilia's untimely fall from her bedroom window. I cannot put my finger on why this is such a painful moment to read. Perhaps it was because it represented the turning point, the point in the lives of the sisters in which they were unquestionably doomed. It was their last moment of innocence, before they were pushed kicking and screaming into the world of adult sorrow and grief because of the death of their sister. To the boys, I also think seeing this party represented what could have been, what might have been a happy healthy life, has Cecilia not been allowed to leave the party, had she not made the choice to end her life.

And of course what was to be discovered next sums it all up....

Words Researched:
Ministrations: The presence of assistance or care. The candles, despite their obvious ministrations, were running out of wax and therefore not burning as brightly. This is symbolistic of the girls' own personal candles running on a short flame at this point in the novel.
Conjectures: A conclusion or opinion that is based on incomplete information. A peach pit left on Lux's bedside table led people to draw all sorts of conjectures
Crepuscular: Resembling twilight. The air smelt like the twilight smell of the Lisbon house.
Reverie: The state of being lost in one's pleasant thoughts. The boys have an intense reverie as they wait for the girls. They dream of where they will go, and how they will be free and happy with the four young women.
Intermittently: Occurring at irregular times. the drain in the Lisbon basement sucked water irregularly.

"Song after song throbbed with secret pain" (Eugenides 256)

The boys across the street have their first prolonged musical encounter with the girls over the telephone. They play songs to each other, in a sort of song conversation.

"Alone Again, Naturally"
(The Lisbon girls)
"Why did He desert me in my hour of need? I truly am indeed, alone again, naturally"
"It seems to me that there are more hearts broken in the world that can be mended"
"To think that only yesterday, I was cheerful bright and gay"
"I promised myself to treat myself and visit a nearby tower, and climbing to the top, will throw myself off"

"You've got a Friend"
(The boys)
"You just call out my name, and you know wherever I am, I'll come running to see you again"
"Winter, Spring, Summer or Fall, all you have to do is call, and I'll be there"

"Where do the Children Play?"
(The Lisbon girls)
"I know we've come a long way, we're changing day to day. But tell me, where do the children play?"
"Will you make us laugh, will you make us cry? Will you tell us when to live, will you tell us when to die?"

"Dear Prudence"
(The boys)
"Won't you come out to play?"
"The sun is up, the sky is blue, it's beautiful and so are you"
"Open up your eyes, see the sunny skies"
"Let me see you smile, like a little child"
"Greet the brand new day"

"Candle in the Wind"
(The Lisbon girls)
"They set you on the treadmill and they made you change your name"
"Never knowing who to cling to, when the rain set in"
"Loneliness was tough, the toughest role you ever played"
"Your candle burned out long before your legend ever did"

"Wild Horses"
(The boys)
"Childhood living is easy to do, the things you wanted I bought them for you"
"Let's do some living after we die"
"I watched you suffer a dull aching pain, now you decided to show me the same"
"Wild horses couldn't drag me away"

"At Seventeen"
(The Lisbon girls)
"I learned the truth at seventeen, that love was meant for beauty queens"
"We all play the game and when we dare to cheat ourselves at solitaire, inventing lovers on the phone, repenting other lives unknown"
"Dreams were all they gave for free, to ugly duckling girls like me"
"To all of us that knew the pain of valentines that never came"

"Time In a Bottle"
(The boys)
"Save every day till eternity passes away, just to spend them with you"
"You're the one I want to go through time with"
"There never seems to be enough time to do what you want to do"

"So Far Away"
(The Lisbon girls)
"Holding you again would only do me good. How I wish I could, but you're so far away"
"It would be so fine to see your face at my door"
"Nothing else to do but close my mind"
"There are so many dreams I have yet to find"

"Bridge Over Troubled Water"
(The boys)
"I'm on your side, when times get rough and friends are hard to find"
"When evening falls so hard, I will comfort you"
"Sail on, silver girl, your time has come to shine"
"If you need a friend, I'm sailing right behind"

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


The life of the street drags on into springtime. The boys no longer watch and wait for the girls to attend their baseball games, as they did many years ago. They begin to forget the girls, and would have most likely let them drift away if the girls hadn't shown interest in their help. The boys begin receiving notes and light signals from the Lisbon household. they eventually end up contacting the girls on the telephone, and after a failed run-in with Mr. Lisbon, get ahold of them. The boys play songs from their records on the phone for the girls, who in turn play songs back.

One of the unorthodox ways the girls contacted the community was to put laminated picture of The Virgin Mary in places they thought the boys would find them: "Hutch wasn't the only one to find a picture. Mrs. Hussen found one pierced amongst her rosebushes. Joey Thompson heard an unfamiliar whirring in his bicycle tires one day and looked down to see a Virgin picture taped between the spokes" (Eugenides 245). The significance of The Virgin Mary is lost to me here. It may represent the girls themselves and their innocence and their need for escape (like Mary herself) or it may just be a token of good fortune and good luck. Hmmm...

Eugenides compares the sisters to the very candles that they light in their room for their sister every night: "Most often she watched the candles as if their outcome held her own, the flames, almost extinguishing themselves, but, by some greed of oxygen persisted" (Eugenides 249). This quote makes me think about who the girls are really living for. It seems as though they are only alive but for the greed of others and the needs of those around them. Their flame is so close to going out, yet they hold on for their parents and the rest of the neighbourhood. I have decided that the girls would have chosen to end their lives much earlier, if they did not feel sorry for their grieving parents downstairs. The candles also represent a limbo, a space and time that serves as the gates between the living world and the dead world for the girls: "The candles were a two way mirror between worlds: they called Cecilia back, but also called her sisters to join her" (Eugenides 260).

I also noticed, after the boys and girls contacted each other, the use of music to make a connection between two groups of people is a prominent theme in the book: "We passed the sticky receiver from ear to ear the drumbeats so regular we might have been pressing our ears to the girls' chests" (Eugenides 256). The boys made a better connection using their music than they ever could do with their voices. This shows how music is a common ground, a connector, for two groups of people who don't feel comfortable speaking their feelings.

Words Researched:
Lilts: A raise and a fall of inflection in the voice while speaking; often thought to be pleasant and reassuring. The boys can no longer imagine the lilts in the voices of the four remaining sisters.
Curatorship: Keeping an art gallery or a museum. The boys are curators over the Lisbon girls. They have their own museum of the girls' things that helps keep their memories alive.
Aureolae: A halo of light, often used to depict someone holy. The streetlights gave off an aureolae. There is a lot of Roman Catholic imagery in this novel, as well as references to angels.
Bordello: Like a brothel. Lux's room glowed like a brothel.
Phantasmagoria: A sequence of dream-like images. The girls have created a phantasmagoria, as they have made a shrine to their sister Cecilia in their bedroom window.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


The boys mention Mrs. Kerafilis, an old lady who lived down the street from the Lisbons, and her growing curiosity in the girls next door. Mrs Kerafilis is old, and waiting to die. Her death is implied as a choice made by here, toppling down her stairs, after banishing the aid of her banister. The boys see the girls again, as the four sisters link arms one Spring day, in attempt to save the elm tree in their front yard from the city, who claims it has Dutch Elm Disease.

Mrs. Kerafilis has a head-scratchingly large appearance in this part of the novel. This is what I find the most interesting bout this novel. So many subtleties are mentioned (the strange smell, the fish flies, the young boy jumping off the roof) that they all create this picture of almost absurdity, or dark irony. All of these bizarre happening seem, obviously, too strange to appear in the novel as a mere plot point. They all serve as reader-interepreated symbolism, and I think they can mean whatever you want them to mean. For instance: "Old Mrs Kerafilis had been shaped and saddened by a history we knew nothing about" (Eugenides 222). This makes me wonder what would have became of the girls, had they not decided to end their lives, would they have grown old and bitter like the lady down the street? Dying young and leaving a wake of beauty has something to be said for it, according to Eugenides.

I noticed that it is mentioned that Mary sits in front of her mirror for hours at a time, "Mary spent hours looking into her portable plastic mirror" (Eugenides 229). It's sad to think that so much self-reflection can lead to an act of suicide. I think this symbolism implies that Mary saw something in herself that she didn't like, yet couldn't change, even through hours of primping and putting on makeup. A mirror forces the viewer to look long and hard at themselves; what Mary saw in herself might have aiding her choice in suicide.

The saving of the Elm Tree in the yard is the girl's last attempt to save a memory of Cecilia, as the tree in question was her favourite. It also shows them trying to gain control over their lives, to influence the power of those above them. The city workers represent the World in their eyes; uncaring, unfeeling and unable to see the beauty in the world around them. They're too busy "just doing their job" to care about the feelings of four teenage girls. Society is too busy preoccupied with itself to care about others.

I also like the foreshadowing that appears when the foreman warns Mr. Lisbon of the consequences of not chopping down the dead tree: "'Look, we leave this tree and the others will all be gone by next year'" (Eugenides 237). This line is also one of the select few lines from this part of dialogue to make it into the movie. It foreshadows the death of the four sisters. If their own personal dead elm is not confronted, they will all be gone by next year.

When the season is in winter, the mood of death is apparent. Even the way Eugenides writes as the seasons apparently change is noticeably more deathly and despairing then his manner of communication in the earlier parts of the novel. It was getting quite depressing, to be frank.

I was very glad when Spring finally came to the Lisbon neighbourhood.

Words Researched:
Palpate: Examine a part of the body by touch. The boys could not palpate the grief of the girls. Here, the grief is given the human attribute of a body, as if it was something concrete.
Portentous: Something that is a sign, or a warning that something bad is about to happen. The picture on Mrs. Kerafilis's fan depicted portentous clouds piling above Jesus praying.
Automatons: A mechanical or robotic device made to look like a human. The papers would describe the Lisbon girls as automatons.

Relating to the Text...

The way the neighbourhood speculates on the fate and future of the Lisbon household irritates me to no avail.

"Suggestions of Satanism, or some mild form of black magic haunt Ms. Perl's calculations. She made much of the record burning incident, and often quoted rock lyrics that alluded to death or suicide" (Eugenides 228).
Everyone stands at their doors watching the Lisbon house, almost in a secret delight that fresh gossip and speculation can be found there daily, straight from the source. It almost sickens me the sick pleasure these people get from snarkily giving their adult opinions on a bunch of teenage girls and a household that has recently gone through tragedy that they can't even imagine. Human nature, of course, is to find blame in something, anything, to explain something that we can't understand or don't wish to understand. I can relate to this on a very personal level, in my own life. However, it also reminds me of another situation in which something was unfairly blamed for the unspeakable acts of a group of teenagers. The following is a quote from the Micheal Moore documentary Bowling For Columbine. This quote comes from an interview with Marilyn Manson, who is reacting to the shooting at Columbine High School, and his own persona being targeted for blame:

Michael Moore: If you were to talk directly to the kids at Columbine or the people in that community, what would you say to them if they were here right now?
Marilyn Manson: I wouldn't say a single word to them. I would listen to what they have to say, and that's what no one did. 

"The song certainly ties in nicely that a dark force beset the girls, some monolithic evil we weren't responsible for" (Eugenides 229)

Monday, April 11, 2011


The boys begin to drift further and further away from the girls. Lux's health is deteriorating; this is confirmed by the men and boys that she meets on the roof. The boys note that they see an ambulance picking up Lux from the Lisbon home; she has stomach problems, and a possible pregnancy. At the hospital, it is determined that Lux isn't pregnant, but she has HPV Mr. Lisbon is fired from his job, and a strange smell starts to emit from the household.

Eugenides mentions that "According to the boys' descriptions, Lux lost weight, though we couldn't tell through the binoculars" (Eugenides 190). This makes me recall the moment that her and Trip first met in the car, and how Trip was overcome by Lux's animosity, comparing her to a hungry animal. While she is still "feeding" on the males that she coerces onto her rooftop, she is still not satisfied the way she was with Trip. She is literally starving for love and affection, and the attention that she's receiving from the nameless boys is not making her any happier; it does give her that full feeling.

Again, more smell imagery is used in this section: "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 our dreams and making us wash our hands over and over" (Eugenides 214). Smell is one of the senses that is the most peculiar, the most mysterious, yet the easiest to ignore. This is why I think smell imagery is used the most in this novel, as opposed to touch or sight. Smell isn't tangible; it's often hard to decipher what it is and where it's coming from. Some are able to detect it, while others stay blissfully unaware of its presence. It can overpower and captivate, but is also really nothing at all. Smell is different to everyone; it's also one of the most powerful memory re-callers. If the Lisbon household was one of the senses, it would be smell.

This novel takes place in the seventies, a decade which seems to have held a great deal of innocence and magic. The innocence of the characters in the novel aside, the time period itself is associated with freedom and a carefree attitude, something I believe Eugenides captured extremely effectively in this novel. Even when discussing the seasons, he remains steadfast in his beliefs that the seventies were the golden days, the days of his youth: "The world, a tired performer offers us another half-assed season" (Eugenides 216). Here, of course, he is discussing the present times, his own personal autumn season. It gives the impression that our current world is lacking of the magic and the spirit of the time of his youth. I enjoy the way he adds enchanting amount of nostalgia to this novel; it makes me want to be a seventies child.

I mentioned this before in my seminar, but I see it fit to mention it again. The part in which the girls order catalogues and magazines remind me of the fantasy sequences in Finding Neverland: "Unable to go anywhere, the girls travelled in their imaginations to goldtipped Siamese temples" (Eugenides 219). The power of the imagination and of thought itself is mesmerizing, almost inspiring in The Virgin Suicides. It reminds me of being young, and still having the full potential of imagination. I think this comments greatly on the state of modern children versus the state of children in the seventies, or even a few years ago. Girls as old as sixteen and seventeen are travelling in their imaginations, a feat I regrettably gave up before I even entered my teens, and could probably not find comfort in today. The parallels between the girls' childlike innocence, and their want and need to be grown up (especially Lux) is staggering, compared to the adolescents of today. They can still go back to their childhood, even for only a short while before their death.

Words Looked Up:
Biafran: A person living in the state of Biafra, a part of Africa near Nigeria which ceased to exist in 1970 because of civil war and its desire to be its own country. Bonnie looks like a Biafran, a starving person in a foreign state.