Virgin Suicides

by: Jeffrey Eugenides

Chapter 4, continued

Analysis

The novel's steady progression toward crisis erupts in this section with the devastating events of June 15. The boys' receipt of the "Tomorrow. Midnight" note, recalls the party invitation they received in Chapter One. The novel begins to read like a horrific caricature of its former self, which serves to give the events of June 15 an air of prophetic or tragic fulfillment. Lux is the lookout in the living room, just as she was lookout on Homecoming night, only now she is buying time not for primping but for suicide. The boys' descent to the Lisbon basement mirrors their descent on the night of Cecilia's party over a year before. Then, as now, they walk carefully down the stairs towards the source of light. The basement they find on June 15 is still assembled for a party, with the punch bowl still out and the sorbet melting, covered with flies and a thick layer of scum. It is as if time stopped for the Lisbon family at the moment of Cecilia's death. Bonnie's death, foreshadowed during Cecilia's party, is now realized, so that instead of swaying to the music she now swings slowly from a beam. The boys, once speechlessly awkward, are now speechless in horror. They flee back to their homes as they did on the night of Cecilia's suicide, unable to endure the sight of death.

The events of this chapter shed a stark light on the boys' motives for wanting to save the girls. At the book's end, the boys will denounce the girls' suicides as "selfish," but the boys' own sexually charged dreams of driving off into the sunset with the adoring girls seem selfish too. True, the boys want to save the girls, but largely because they think that this will make the girls love them. The boys' dreams of the open road, as they wait in the Lisbons' living room for the girls to "finish packing," recall the ride to Homecoming, the boys' last exhilarating interaction with the girls. The boys' dream of an infinite drive is a dream of postponing the girls' one moment of happiness. They want to extend youth, happiness, and innocence—the ideals of suburbia—instead of re-entering the realm of old age, reality and death. When the boys find the girls dead, the boys feel betrayed, as if suicide is the girls' ultimate rejection of their heroic masculinity. The boys realize that the girls had been planning all along to go on a "trip" without them. Instead of driving off with four grateful blondes, the boys realize that they have been trivial accessories to the girls' flight.

At the same time, the girls could easily have killed themselves without inviting the boys to witness. The girls' invitation to the boys seems to be a cruel joke, designed only to confront the boys with their own inadequacy and ignorance. Yet the novel as a whole, and the girls' careful preparations, suggest a motive more profound than shallow cruelty. Instead, it was a test. Had the boys not come, the boys could have spent the subsequent years telling themselves "I could have saved her if I'd been there." But the boys were there, sitting in the living room, too caught up in their own fantasies to notice that the girls were killing themselves in the surrounding darkness. The scene in the living room is an appropriate end to the preceding year, where the boys were too caught up in their dreams of the Lisbon girls to inquire into the horrors that the girls were actually experiencing. Thus, by letting the boys fail to stop their suicides, the girls assert their independence, but also suggest the countless times in which the boys have failed them before, and will continue to fail them after death.