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Virgin Suicides

Chapter 2

Summary Chapter 2


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.