Virgin Suicides

by: Jeffrey Eugenides

Chapter 3

In this chapter, the family's decline is symbolized by the decay of the house and backyard. The girls need to scavenge for candy, which is further proof to suburban neighbors that Mrs. Lisbon is neglecting her role as cook and housecleaner. The book implies that Mrs. Lisbon has similarly neglected her role as mother. Subsequent chapters show that the Lisbon parents' gender roles are even more visibly skewed. Such speculation serves to reinforce the suburban patriarchal ideal. The Lisbon house's ruin serves as a warning to others who would challenge the status quo and push the boundaries of gender roles.

Furthermore, Trip's strategy to watch TV with the Lisbons hints at the crucial role of spectatorship in suburbia. As night falls around the neighborhood, lights turn on, illuminating families gathered around their television sets. Ironically for the suburban family, quality time means making it through a Disney special together. Television seems to be the American solution to intimacy, and family substitute shared experience for interaction. Trip's visit is a suitable overture to the family: his evening is spent in the Lisbon house next to Mrs. Lisbon, as he laughs politely at the television program's canned humor. Across the suburb and throughout the novel, friends gather in shared spectatorship. The Lisbons watch Disney, just as the neighborhood boys watch the Lisbons.

For the novel's characters, the prevalence of television has had a profound effect on what watching means and how it is understood. The boys' observations and descriptions of the girls are often given as if the boys themselves were a camera. The boys watch the girls drift by in slow motion and they describe bright sunlight as overexposure. In their role as camera, the boys imagine themselves to objective observers, impartially recording every detail for future reference. Yet the camera is also a tool of artifice, reinventing the girls as inaccessible heroines in a drama that the boys can only passively watch. The novel is obsessed with watching and sight. Eugenides' makes an interesting choice: he decides to cover themes of image and spectatorship by using the written word. This choice requires a kind of self-conscious distance and an acknowledgement of the inability of one art form to adequately contain another. The novel proceeds with full awareness of this failing, just as the boys narrate the story with the understanding that they do not have all the answers. By extension, both the image and the word are inadequate to contain the truth of the Lisbon girls' story.

Finally, as hinted at the end of Chapter Two, the neighborhood fathers' removal of the fence is typical of the suburb's response to the Lisbon tragedy. Rather than worrying about the causes of Cecilia's self-destructiveness, the men simply destroy her tools. They do not uproot every fence in the neighborhood, nor ask every father to switch to an electric razor, indicating an almost superstitious belief that the danger resides in the particular fence on which Cecilia jumped. Likewise, Cecilia's own suicide is rationalized as her own private sickness, rather than as a tendency latent in adolescents. The suburb's failure to consider the big picture reflects what journalist Christopher Hitchens has called 'a Maginot Line in the mind,—the stubborn belief that the enemy will always appear in the same form. The French, fearing another invasion of German ground troops after World War I, spent enormous amounts of money fortifying the trenches of the Maginot Line along the French/German border, only to find that the Germans appeared in airplanes. Meanwhile, the neighborhood men removing the fence will be surprised in Chapter Four to find that the girls have other means of suicide besides a pointy fence.