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Virgin Suicides

Jeffrey Eugenides

Chapter 2

Chapter 1

Chapter 3

Summary

The paramedics return to the Lisbon house, driving slowly, as if they know it is hopeless. The boys watch from across the street as the paramedics cut the fence stake below Cecilia's body. They remove her and take her away on a stretcher, with the fence post holding up the covering sheet. Further down the block, the sounds of barbecues, badminton and oblivious suburbia continue, haunted by sounds from the impoverished city beyond. Darkness falls, and the boys return to their individual homes.

Cecilia Lisbon's death comes during the sixth week of the cemetery workers' strike, during which all burials have been indefinitely postponed. Before her suicide, no one in town had given much thought to this strike, as the only deaths in recent memory had been pet dogs. After an awkward tour of possible burying grounds, Mr. Lisbon decides on a public nondenominational cemetery between two freeways, where Celia will be given her last rights before being taken to the mortuary freezer to await internment. Her death is officially listed as an accident, as her sisters' will be a year later.

The narrators parents attend the funeral. When the protesters at the cemetery gates learn Cecilia's age, they lower their placards and allow the procession to enter. Due to the strike, the cemetery has fallen into disarray, its grass is uncut and a digging machine is left in mid-stroke. Dressed in a beige dress with a lace collar, Cecilia is tiny in the adult-size coffin. Her sisters file by the body, dazed, and silent. The neighbors will later claim that the sisters' lack of obvious grief was an indication that they were already planning to join Cecilia.

Cecilia's death only makes the boys more curious about her life and those of her sisters. They are able to obtain Cecilia's diary from the plumber's assistant, who had found it next to the toilet in the Lisbons' master bathroom with the lock forced open. The boys study it obsessively, reading passages aloud to each other and memorizing it. The diary, which spans a year and a half, is not morbid but instead full of colorful pictures—whales, shamrocks, and angels. Instead of describing the usual teenage angst and insecurities, Celia's writing is strangely not self-aware: she narrates her life and the lives of her sisters as if all five girls were a single entity. Her copious entries afford the boys their first real insight into girls' lives, and spark a deep kinship between them.

We knew that the girls were our twins, that we all existed in space like animals with identical skins, and that they knew everything about us though we couldn't fathom them at all. We knew, finally, that the girls were really women in disguise, that they understood love and even death, and that our job was merely to create the noise that seemed to fascinate them.

Years later, based on Mr. Lisbon's testimony, the boys reconstruct Cecilia's last day. Mr. Lisbon claims that Cecilia had seemed pleased about the party, and had helped tie balloon decorations against the doctor's orders that she should not raise her stitched wrists above her head. When reminded of the orders, she had gone upstairs and spent hours lying in her room listening to music. Beginning at 2 P.M., she had taken a marathon bath, and was constantly policed by her nervous parents who feared another suicide attempt. Several hours later, she had emerged clean and unharmed and she dressed for the party. Neither parent had thought her isolationist behavior during the party was strange, as she was usually shy with strangers. After asking to be dismissed, Cecilia had gone upstairs and lingered in the kitchen, drinking pear juice from a can, before proceeding to the second floor. One neighbor claimed to have seen her at the door with a suitcase, and another saw her opening her bedroom window. But no explanation for the suitcase was ever found, and the second neighbor left his room without seeing her fall.

Analysis

Cecilia's death is not only surprising, but also starkly unnatural, as symbolized by the logistical difficulties of her last rites. The lack of girl- sized coffins reflects the community's belief in the glory and immortality of youth, confining death to the very young and the very old. As the first death in the boys' lifetime, Cecilia's suicide shatters the community's charmed existence, and by extension, it destroys the American dream of suburban paradise. Suburbia, a planned neighborhood of equidistant housing plots and uniform trees, parallels the cemetery, also a planned neighborhood of equidistant graves. Thus, the cemetery workers' refusal to accept the conditions of their labor echoes Cecilia's own refusal to live according to suburbia's terms. The workers' strike will end in Chapter Five with the death of Mary, the final Lisbon suicide, as both girls and workers give up the fight. At the strike's end, the cemetery will return to its manicured state, while suburbia disintegrates around it. In this chapter, however, it is the cemetery whose disarray and uncut grass contrasts with the carefully maintained lawns of the boys' houses, as life and death keep a difficult balance.

As a result of Cecilia's death, the boys' fascination with the Lisbon girls drives them to pore through Cecilia's diary. Their obsession mirrors the larger structure of the narrative, in which the curious death of the Lisbon sisters motivates our reading of the novel itself. Cecilia's diary, the book-within-a- book, is juxtaposed with the larger novel. While Cecilia ostensibly wrote the diary, its driving voice is that of the first person plural. Cecilia writes of her sisters and herself as a single entity, thereby constructing a feminine "we" that mirrors the narrative masculine "we" of the novel. While Cecilia's diary serves as a kind of screenplay, allowing the boys to imagine what took place inside the Lisbon house, it provides no insight into the girls' motives, attitudes or interior dramas. Likewise, the larger novel remains deeply superficial, focusing on observation, action, and sensation while skirting the abyss of human emotion. Lastly, the juxtaposition of diary and novel and of masculine and feminine narratives mirrors the novel's recurring juxtaposition of male and female bodies, realities, and knowledge.

Finally, the events of Cecilia's last day reveal that her death was not a matter of large catastrophic events but of routine, small ones. More broadly, the novel is concerned not with the horror of extraordinary things but with the horror of the ordinary—the ways in which routine actions and average lives can produce disaster. To attempt suicide, Cecilia uses completely ordinary objects like a bathtub, water, a razor, and a fence. Where others see tools, she sees weapons, suggesting that it is not only high science that can turn on its human makers but also the apparatus of everyday life. The sudden switch from innocent object to tool of death is deeply troubling to Cecilia's her suburban neighborhood, which conceives of itself as an oasis of security and normalcy. However, if mundane domesticity is life-threatening, then the suburbs are fatal. To conceive of itself as safe, the suburban neighborhood must reject the implications of Cecilia's suicide for ordinary people by claiming that it was an extraordinary event—an isolated stroke of terrible luck rather than an instance of an endemic problem. When the neighborhood men declare the Lisbon fence a hazard at the beginning of Chapter Three and organize to remove it, without worrying about any of the other fences, they exhibit this logic. The neighborhood boys, however, reject such sensationalism. In calling the Lisbon girls their "twins," the boys are perceptive enough to acknowledge the trivial nature of the differences which separate them from the Lisbon sisters and, by extension, from suicide.

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