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Virgin Suicides

Jeffrey Eugenides

Chapter 4

Chapter 4

Chapter 4, page 2

page 1 of 2

After Homecoming, Mrs. Lisbon withdraws her daughters from school and confines them to the house. The boys are shocked by the severity of punishment for Lux breaking curfew. Mrs. Lisbon will later explain that she thought the girls needed time by themselves to recover from Cecilia's death. Mr. Lisbon seems neither involved in nor aware of this decision.

The following Sunday, after church, Mrs. Lisbon forces Lux to destroy her rock records. Besides family trips to church, and Mr. Lisbon's trips to school, no one is ever seen leaving the house. As the weather turns cold, the boys begin to notice Lux on the roof of the Lisbon house copulating with random men. No one knows how Lux meets these men, or how she manages to sneak them up onto the roof at night without her parents' knowledge. Some of these men tell the boys stories of being led through a dark house full of rotting and congealed food and empty cans, indicating that Mrs. Lisbon has stopped cooking and cleaning entirely. The men all speak of Lux's incredible presence, likening her to an angel. Yet they report that she often seemed bored by the sex itself, and speculate her ultimate motive. The boys, who are virgins, watch incredulously with binoculars, haunted by the fantastic image of Lux in the act of love.

Three weeks later, the ambulance appears at the Lisbon house, this time for Lux. The rumor is that she suffers from a burst appendix, but once at the hospital it becomes clear that Lux has faked stomach pain to see a doctor and be given a pregnancy test. The sympathetic doctor determines that Lux is not pregnant, and tells her parents that it was a bad case of indigestion. Dr. Hornicker, the psychiatrist, stops by to see Lux in the hospital and concludes that she is in deep denial of Cecilia's death. Dr. Hornicker writes a second report on the Lisbon girls, diagnosing the remaining sisters with post-traumatic stress disorder and warning of the high incidence of repetitive suicide in a single family. In light of his report, the community begins to think of suicide as a contagious disease and vilifies Cecilia for infecting her sisters. No one asks how Cecilia caught the suicide virus in the first place.

Meanwhile, as winter deepens, the Lisbon house continues to decay. No repairman comes to fix the leaks, and not even Father Moody dares intrude on the Lisbons' solitude. Only Mr. Lisbon leaves the house on his daily trip to school, appearing with a fake smile and puffy red eyes. Six weeks after Homecoming, Mr. Lisbon resigns. It is rumored that he was asked to leave by local parents concerned by his failure to manage his own children.

Once Mr. Lisbon's trips to school cease, the Lisbon house becomes completely desolate. No one ever leaves, the lights rarely go on, and the grocer stops delivering groceries. The boys, watching, worry that the girls are not eating. They witness Bonnie wasting away, appearing progressively more waifish as she comes out onto the porch in the mornings just before dawn to recite the rosary. The boys begin to smell wafts of a palpable stench beginning to emerge from the Lisbon house, thick and overpowering.


The external deterioration of the Lisbon house closely mirrors its internal chaos, suggesting the ways an environment can reflect the mental and emotional state of its human inhabitants. The house's drawn shutters and continually closed windows and doors suggest a body whose eyes are closed and whose mouth never opens, illustrating the Lisbon girls' isolation and silence throughout the winter. But while the Lisbons' isolation is largely self-imposed, it is accepted and even encouraged by the community. Following Dr. Hornicker's theory, the neighbors conceive of Cecilia's suicide in the language of infectious disease—a virus that is liable to spread to her sisters and to anyone else who comes too close. In the community's eyes, the Lisbons's shut house serves as a kind of quarantine, an isolation of the sick so they cannot infect others. Unlike hospital quarantine, however, the community makes no provisions to help the "infected" Lisbons recover. Instead, the community's encouragement of the Lisbon quarantine suggests a troubling tendency to hold the victim responsible for the tragedy. Stated more broadly, if America gives the successful person credit for his or her success, then America must also hold the miserable human being responsible for his or her failure. This argument shows the dark side of the American dream.

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