Eugenides’s The Virgin Suicides and Joyce Carolyn Oates’s Expensive People
Suburban life is commonly portrayed as a narrative of the upper-middle class. Clean, sterile and reserved, suburbia is a tangible representation of the universally misconstrued “American dream.” However, culture fails to recognize the dark underbelly of this uplifting dream: a world of masked depression, ingrained superiority and stark ignorance. Jeffery Eugenides’s The Virgin Suicides and Joyce Carolyn Oates’s Expensive People both narrate the darker side of the American dream. This hidden societal decomposition is portrayed in a light filled with brilliant reality; a reality that true American life fails to acknowledge.
Both The Virgin Suicides and Expensive People were written about a time wrought with cultural tension. Although none of this is directly mentioned it seems highly unrealistic that any part of these happenings failed to seep into suburban communities and infect them with some sense of a crumbling reality. Outside influences, whether they were consciously recognized or not, drifted silently into suburban America and cast a suffocating spell on these structured communities. National crisis and society as a whole became the catalyst for suburban decomposition, simply because all those living in such communities chose to ignore reality and feign an untouched existence.
In The Virgin Suicides the five Lisbon girls are placed in “a comfortable suburban home” (Eugenides 5). However, this placid existence is disrupted by the suicide attempt of the youngest daughter Cecilia. The naiveté of the community is shown extremely early in this novel , citing the newspaper’s failed obligation to report the drama: “Our local newspaper neglected to run an article on the attempt, because the editor…felt such depressing information wouldn’t fit between the front-page article on the Junior League Flower Show and back-page photographs of grinning brides” (Eugenides 15). Such neglect on the community’s part is a blatant indication of the ignorance that persists within suburban neighborhoods. Family’s continued on with life as normal, gossiping to one another within the safety of their latest decorating schemes and taking little time to truly contemplate the severity of such a situation.
Eugenides paints a picture of both personal as well as literal decay caused by the stifling character of such conformist communities. The Lisbon girls themselves become the embodiment of destructive suburban nature, not willing to accept the orthodox existence set as the cultural standard. Cecilia’s final success at suicide simply begins the unraveling process of the neighborhood, putting into motion the literal decay of the typical suburban household. Cecilia’s death, although debatable, came because the struggle to conform became too much. Her release from such a structured world set free the minds of her sisters and clogged those of the neighbors; those...