The Virgin Suicides is the 1993 debut novel of Jeffrey Eugenides acclaimed for its strong symbolism, bold imagery, and criticism of literary cliché. The book is narrated by a group of men reflecting on the five Lisbon sisters they loved in their adolescence, whose haunting mystery will always be a presence in their lives. At its surface, it’s the tragic tale of five sisters. But at its heart, The Virgin Suicides is the much-needed murder of a trope that’s been plaguing novels for the decades- the manic pixie dream girl.
The origins of the manic pixie dream girl are unclear, but the trope is always the same. A socially awkward, moderately attractive white teenage boy meets a strikingly beautiful teenage girl who’s quirky, outgoing, and completely changes his world. The manic pixie dream girl is almost always killed off, her sole purpose being bringing out the best in the male protagonist, without having any desires or dreams for herself. In Looking for Alaska by John Green, an anxious guy meets a girl whose gorgeous eyes hold tragedy, and his search for why she ends her life is fundamental part of his character development. In The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, an introverted teen falls in love with a girl at first sight who is alluring, odd, and more flawed than he is, placed in the book to humanize the protagonist. The details of the books are different, but the body is the same- the death or demise of the girl is an arbitrary plot device that serves no purpose besides making the male protagonist a better person.
The Virgin Suicides exposes the devastating ramifications of the trope, as a group of boys are so starry-eyed at the stunning Lisbon sisters that they do nothing to help them. The girls’ continuous cries for help are merely another face of the diamond that is their beauty, something to be adored rather than attended to. When the girls are gone, the boys are haunted by their memory, having wives,children, and the enduring question of what happened, forever ignorant of their contribution to the girls’ demise. The book shows us the true nature of the trope by giving us the opportunity to develop an emotional attachment to the girls that typical uses of the trope do not allow. The trope is still alive and well- Looking for Alaska by John Green was published twelve years after The Virgin Suicides- yet the book remains a powerful reminder of the dark side of the manic pixie dream girl and the sexism and romanticizing of depression it entails.