The Macksey Journal


In Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides, a choral voice of adolescent boys voyeuristically observes and romanticizes the repeated suicide attempts and personal tragedies of the Lisbon sisters. However, simultaneous to this fetishizing voice is one which suggests the boys’ uncanny sense of familiarity surrounding the girls. As the boys eerily state,“We felt the imprisonment of being a girl” (Eugenides 43). In The Uncanny, Sigmund Freud describes the so-called uncanny experience as one which presents a familiar instinct which has only become unfamiliar through repression (Freud 241). Thus, in a Freudian psychoanalytic reading of the text, the boys experience the girls as uncanny because of the way in which the sisters function as symbols of emasculation, a deep fear which is largely repressed yet still accessible as a familiar threat within the subconscious.

This essay endeavors to illustrate the way in which the uncanny experience functions to reveal latent fantasies and even deeper fears of the male narrators in question. Additionally, I will apply the concept of Lacanian gaze, specifically where it applies to Laura Mulvey’s more specific “male gaze” concept, to further understanding of how the boys’ distinctly male observance from afar functions to distance them from the fearful world of female suffering, and thereby repress the sense of uncanny fear the girls’ presence elicits. Throughout the novel, it is important to note that the narrative bears witness to the Lisbon girls only through the gaze of the male narrators. As such, the boys’ perception of the Lisbons’ situation as uncanny or surreal serves to bear insight only into the boys’ own repressed functioning instead of truly bearing witness into the suffering of the female objects of their gaze. Thus, Eugenides’ text points to the fascinating dynamics of misunderstanding and miscommunication that occur between men and women as a result of romanticization and rigid constructs around femininity and masculinity.