The Virgin Suicides Essay - Critical Overview

Jeffrey Eugenides

Critical Overview

Many reviewers have found parallels between The Virgin Suicides and The Great Gatsby, both of which use lyrical prose and cast light on the fall of the American Dream. Womack and Mallory-Kani (2007) note that the setting and timing of the work “symbolize the collapse of American idealism” and convey the “widespread cultural malaise” of an era when once rock-solid values were challenged by Vietnam, Watergate, and a prolonged recession. Griffith (1994) notes that the Lisbons are largely bland and uninteresting; he finds the compelling aspect of the novel to be the narrators, who “clearly love, in their way, the America that died about the same time the Lisbon girls did.”

Of Eugenides’s prose, various reviews at the time of the novel’s release admired his “dreamy, elegiac tale” (Truax, 1993), the “relentlessly mournful but also gruesomely funny” tone (Prince, 1993), and the book’s end result as a “small but powerful opera” (Kakutani, 1993). Because of Eugenides’s Greek-American background, many critics are quick to suggest the first-person plural narration is Eugenides’s attempt at a “Greek chorus”—the narrative device used by ancient playwrights to express the thoughts and feelings that characters were incapable of speaking—but Eugenides has denied that intentionality (Welch, 2003).

Finally, some critics choose to investigate the psychological dimensions of the novel, examining the medical diagnoses throughout the book and wondering if other causes—social, emotional, and cultural—were to blame for the suicides. As a result, the book has become popular as supplemental reading in adolescent psychology classes.