Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann

Start Your Free Trial

Download Valley of the Dolls Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Social Concerns / Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Susann said that one of the purposes of her novels was to show the average woman that money and fame do not equal happiness. All three of Susann's heroines in this novel want a man, children, respectability. Their careers as high fashion models and highly paid actresses and singers are either a diversion until Mr. Right comes along, or a means of making money until they can settle down, have the kids, lead a rather high-style version of a housewife's life. They all fail.

Jennifer North, after one possessive lesbian affair, two disastrous marriages, and an intervening career as an actress in European art films, finally meets her knight in the form of a senator, but discovers she has breast cancer and kills herself. Neely O'Hara whines throughout the novel that all she really wants is one good man, that her success is hollow without one. But her devouring star's ego destroys both of her marriages. Anne Wells, after a long, lackluster affair finally tricks the man she really loves into marriage, but is paid back with his infidelity when her trickery is discovered.

The three main characters are done in by ideas of perfection. Jennifer commits suicide because, after her mastectomy, she will no longer embody an ideal of beauty. She believes her fiance will not marry her. If Neely could admit that she loves herself and her career more than anyone she would be happier. Anne resorts to deception to trap her own true love. All three are victims of traditional images of women, images of perfection that they do not realize are unattainable, and given their lives, are undesirable. Anne could have her great love, Lyon, had she been willing to move back to her small town. But she was not willing. She had, without realizing it, already rejected one stale image of woman solely as helpmate, in favor of a career, excitement, the city. The one role model they might have had, Helen Lawson, a huge success on Broadway, is seen as something of a failure because she can only get "fags" as escorts....

(The entire section is 520 words.)