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Virgin Suicides

Jeffrey Eugenides

Character Analysis

Character List

Themes, Symbols and Motifs

Trip Fontaine

Trip is the epitome of suburban masculinity, and his emergence from baby fat is heralded by neighborhood girls and mothers alike. Trip comes into his own after a trip to Acapulco with his father and his father's lover Donald, where he is initiated into the mysteries of love and alcohol by a lonely divorcée. Ever since that fateful trip, Trip's life has been a whirlwind of substance abuse and naked women. The neighborhood boys watch in awe as his style and swagger command droves of admiring girls who bake him food, warm his bed, and leave sweaty notes in his car. Trip's virility sets him against the effeminate Mr. Lisbon but also against the boys themselves. As virgins, awkward in their teenage skins, the boys envy Trip his rugged grace and testosterone halo, realizing that life is patently unfair.

Trip's relationship with his father is different than that of the boys' relationships with their dads. Trip and his father treat one another as equals, sunbathing together in the pool and turning a blind eye to each other's erotic adventures. In the Lisbons' era, and for years thereafter in the American heartland, Mr. Fontaine's homosexuality would have been strictly taboo. It is perhaps for this reason that Trip always respects the privacy of love and refuses to discuss a single detail of his sexual exploits with the other boys. This peculiar and gentlemanly discretion assures Trip a constant stream of female admirers. It also sets him sharply against the narrators, whose love for the Lisbon girls prompts them to endlessly analyze every detail they can find. In the end, however, only Trip sleeps with Lux, while the loose-lipped narrators do not even touch her. This outcome suggests that the narrators' words serve as a kind of substitute for an actual sexual experience, and that the actuality of such an experience might lie beyond the power of words to describe.

More generally, Trip's drugs, alcohol, hairspray, and hot rod are symbols of new American suburban masculinity. His burgeoning drug trade suggests that Trip is a self-made man, and this endeavor frees him from the restraints of high school. His epicurean love of women suggests the refined taste and conspicuous consumption of the affluent American playboy, while his discretion marks him as a gentleman. Trip's years spent in detox, recovering from his youth, seem a fitting price to pay for living the American dream. Even his postcoital abandonment of Lux on Homecoming night, Trip's least sympathetic moment, is explained with the prototypically American excuse that he just suddenly got sick of her. The American hero need never worry his attention span, even for so fragile a thing as love.

Lux Lisbon

Lovely, wry, playful, inaccessible Lux is the creature of each narrator's dream. The boys watch from school windows as she laughs her beautiful laugh at other boys, and from their treehouse as she responds to the house arrest by having sex on her roof with a stream of faceless men. Both her nascent sexuality before Homecoming and her explicitly sexual escapades after impress the neighborhood boys, who claim that all subsequent women in their lives have, in moments of passion, taken Lux's face. To the boys, Lux's seemingly intuitive knowledge of sex suggests an intimacy with the secrets of the world and concomitantly, a familiarity with death. Yet neither the boys nor Lux's partners are able to fathom the depths of her mind, to determine her thoughts on Cecilia's death, or even her motives for anonymous intercourse. Though her partners find her magnificent—a carnal angel—they report that Lux often seems bored by sex, picking zits on her partner's back or looking off into the distance. Yet her presence and sense of purpose lead the men to feel as if they have been insignificant pawns in Lux's higher plan, echoing the boys' feelings on the night of the June fifteen suicides. Furthermore, her insistence upon the sexual act itself, in the winter theater of the Lisbon roof, seems to suggest a will toward both performance and self-destruction, yet these are precisely the characteristics that the narrators most want from Lux. Thus, it is difficult for the reader to discern Lux's true intentions, as they are observed by the boys' desire.

Narratively, the first signs of Lux appear when Peter Sissen, having dinner at the Lisbon house, passes her bedroom en route to the bathroom and sees her bra hung carelessly from a crucifix. Peter emerges from the bathroom and is confronted by Lux, her hair let down, waiting to get a tampon. This twofold evidence of Lux's budding femininity and sexuality impresses Peter and the boys. Likewise, the tantalizing image of her brassiere foreshadows Lux's subsequent promiscuity in the face of Mrs. Lisbon's strict religious regime. Lux next appears at Cecilia's party, where the narrators realize she is the only Lisbon sister truly as beautiful and mischievous as they had imagined. For some time after, Lux's character retreats behind a series of constraints on her femininity. For example, Mrs. Lisbon wipes off Lux's lipstick or sends her inside to change into a less revealing top. In rebellion against these restrictions, the boys see Lux accepting a ride on a motorcycle, and laughing outside the high school with a delinquent boy. But by the middle of Chapter Three, with Cecilia dead, Bonnie, Mary and Therese are given only collective or passing mention, while Lux emerges as a heroine of singular importance.

Like Trip, whose silence and stature excludes him from the group of neighborhood boys, Lux rarely interacts with girls besides her sisters. Occasionally she will ditch gym to smoke with a friend, but even these few moments cease as the Lisbon sisters' tragedy mounts and the community begins to leave them alone. Yet even among her sisters Lux is strikingly individual, venturing out alone into the risky territories of sex, cigarettes, alcohol, and love. Lux's access to the world of men leaves her as a protective intermediary between her sisters and the neighborhood boys—she waits outside for the boys' car at Homecoming and later stalls the boys while her sisters commit suicide. Lux exists in the threshold between masculine and feminine worlds, Lisbons and outsiders, adulthood and adolescence, life and death, virginity and knowledge, and seems finally to belong to neither extreme even as she seems to alternately typify them. She is impossible to pin down, and wriggles cleverly out from under labels or uses them for her own purposes. Lux's elaborately faked 'burst appendix,' a cover for a pregnancy test, as well as her numerous forged excuse notes at school, indicate her command of charade, leaving both the reader and the boys to wonder about her ultimate motives. Yet she is far more than a trickster, her games suggest an imaginative response to impossibly restrictive rules rather than dishonesty or fraud. She is the most ambiguous and therefore the most human of the sisters, actively fighting to live outside of the rules that restrain her. Lux is ultimately abandoned both by the awed boys and by manly Trip, though they will insist they loved her.

The neighborhood boys

A scattered group, the neighborhood boys narrate the story from the safety of an ambiguous "we." Their identity is revealed gradually, as the reader begins to piece together the narrator's gender, age, and membership from the kind of knowledge to which the narrator is privy. It is not until page eight, when the reader learns that"only one boy" had entered the Lisbon house that the narrator demonstrates tangible characteristics. As The Virgin Suicides names individual boys, the narrative voice takes shape as a loose collective of adolescent males, united by age, gender, residency, friendship, and an overwhelming fascination with the Lisbon girls. Their thoughts, interests, actions and dreams reflect the middle-class suburban patriarchy that they inhabit: the boys rake leaves, play football and baseball, tune cars, watch girls, do their homework, attend high school, and envy the knowledge of their older brothers. Though the boys speak in the past tense, their true narrative distance does not become clear until the book's last pages, where the reader learns that the narrators are actually middle-aged men reflecting on their childhood. The boys' narrative voice is familiar and deliberate. They present the girls' story after much consideration about the events of the past, and they speak to the reader as they might speak among themselves.

The boys' diversity gives the narrative voice access to a wide range of facts and experiences, even as it retains a very personal sense of opinion, longing, suspicion, and despair. The narrative collaboration is symbolized by the catalog of artifacts that the boys keep as a kind of shrine to the girls' lives: photographs, notes, cosmetics, candles, a bra, and tennis shoes, carefully labeled one through ninety-seven and kept in five suitcases in the boys' childhood tree house. The artifacts, found and analyzed throughout the story by various boys, are lumped into the collective consciousness in the hopes of gaining access to a comprehensive truth about the Lisbon girls. No such truth is forthcoming, the paucity of evidence weighing unfavorably against the unknown expanse of the Lisbons' lives. As time passes and the novel continues, the boys find that the individual artifacts have become less potent, triggering memories only after seconds of intense concentration. Even as the boys catalog these pieces a second time, for the reader, they are aware that the objects' ritual and symbolic power is fading. Likewise, the physical disintegration of the artifacts at the book's end reflects the disintegration of the boys' less tangible memories, as both fall victim to the ravages of time.

As the novel begins, the boys attempt to remain objective, frequently mentioning facts gleaned from others and rounding out the narrative with diverse and irreconcilable opinions. As the story progresses, such interjections occur less and less frequently, and are replaced by meditations on melancholy and loss. Though the events of the novel have long since passed, the reconstructive process of narration gives way to the boys' sorrow at the impossibility of the sisters' recovery and the impossibility of uncovering of the Lisbon mystery. In the winter of the girls' house arrest, the boys finally single out the reader as "you," rejecting even the most sympathetic of readers as outsiders. By the novel's end, the boys find themselves to be outsiders as well, able neither to enter the Lisbon girls' world nor to recover the truth of their own adolescence.

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