Laboring to Uphold the Image of Suburbia

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Laboring to Uphold the Image of Suburbia Representations of Deviant Sexual Desire in 'The Virgin Suicides' and 'Middlesex'
Szymanski, Mallory
Place of Publication:
[Gainesville, Fla.]
University of Florida
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1 online resource (88 p.)

Thesis/Dissertation Information

Master's ( M.A.)
Degree Grantor:
University of Florida
Degree Disciplines:
Women's Studies
Committee Chair:
Travis, Patricia A.
Committee Members:
Emery, Kimberly L.
Graduation Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Cities ( jstor )
Narratives ( jstor )
Narrators ( jstor )
Novels ( jstor )
Suburban life ( jstor )
Suburbs ( jstor )
Suicide ( jstor )
Transgenderism ( jstor )
White people ( jstor )
Women ( jstor )
Women's Studies -- Dissertations, Academic -- UF
deviance, eugenides, middlesex, sexuality, suburb, suburbia, suicides, virgin
Electronic Thesis or Dissertation
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
Women's Studies thesis, M.A.


This paper argues that Eugenides' novels employ instances of deviant sexuality to unmask the efforts of suburbanites to define their living spaces (against the city as the locus of filth) as stable and orderly models of the American Dream. Existing socio-historical scholarship about suburbia contends with a notion of the suburb as a haven for white, middle-class families. Two competing perspectives emerge out of this scholarship: the first critiques the conformist force of the homogeneous American suburb; the second revises the history of suburbia, complicating the picture by providing evidence of Black suburbanization and working-class suburbs. I conclude that while suburbs have historically housed differences of race and class, the collective imagined suburb includes only white middle-class families. This paper seeks to extend the critique of the revisionist scholars by introducing sexuality as a category of analysis and exploring representations of 'deviant' sexuality in suburban literature. My reading of Eugenides' novels suggests that implementing sexuality as a lens through which to interrogate suburban ideologies offers further insight into the ways in which suburbanites define themselves in opposition to the 'filth' (sexual and otherwise) that resides in the city. In The Virgin Suicides, Eugenides demonstrates the suburban impulse to suffocate the sexual desires of five white, middle-class sisters, resulting in their suicides. In Middlesex, he complicates his critique, showing how race and class differences dissolve behind a facade of normative heterosexual family structure, that is, until, evidence of deviance surfaces in the birth of an intersexed child. This intervention into suburban discourse will foreground the process by which individuals hold up for themselves the image of the American suburb and exert an enormous effort to achieve and maintain rightful membership in white, middle-class suburbia. This thesis speculates that further interdisciplinary scholarship about suburbia must be done in order to attend to the dissonance between the image of a white-washed homogeneous suburb and its more complicated experiential counterpart. I conclude that sexuality, as a category of analysis, connects with race and class in order to emphasize the inherent heterosexuality that frames the image of suburbia. An analysis of sexuality offers a more complete picture of the ways in which individuals labor to conceal their various deviations from suburban norms. ( en )
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In the series University of Florida Digital Collections.
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Includes vita.
Includes bibliographical references.
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Thesis (M.A.)--University of Florida, 2008.
Adviser: Travis, Patricia A.
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by Mallory Szymanski

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University of Florida
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Copyright by Mallory Szymanski. Permission granted to the University of Florida to digitize, archive and distribute this item for non-profit research and educational purposes. Any reuse of this item in excess of fair use or other copyright exemptions requires permission of the copyright holder.
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2 2008 Mallory Szymanski


3 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I cannot express enough gratitude for the networ k of support that has m ade this project possible. First, I thank my supervisory committee chair, Trysh Travis, for her dedication to this project. Her rigorous work ethi c and high expectations have insp ired me to settle for nothing less than my best effort. I am grateful to Kim Emery, my second reader, for asking difficult questions and acknowledging the various potential readings of a single text. I am also indebted to Amy Long, a colleague and friend, whose unwavering support has helped me overcome various intellectual obstacles. Her patience, guidance, and rational sense have been incalculable resources for me. Finally, I thank my Mom for helping me to digest each day's difficulties by encouraging me to continually put life into perspective. I thank my Dad for listening with an open mind and often understanding me better than I understand myself.


4 TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS...............................................................................................................3 ABSTRACT.....................................................................................................................................5 CHAP TER 1 INTRODUCTION....................................................................................................................7 2 AMERICA AND/AS SUBURBIA: CONS TRUCTION AND CONTES TATION OF THE IMAGE OF THE AMERICAN SUBURB.................................................................... 14 Historicizing the Suburb.........................................................................................................14 Critics of American Conformity in Suburbia......................................................................... 18 Revisionist Critique of Suburbia............................................................................................ 24 Searching for Suburbia in Literature...................................................................................... 28 Suburbia and Sexuality......................................................................................................... ..30 3 THE THREAT OF FEMALE HETEROSEXUAL DESIRE IN THE VI RGIN SUICIDES ...............................................................................................................................34 Policing Female Sexuality: Repression of the Lisbon Girls' Desire....................................... 38 Keeping up Appearances: Restoratio n of the Hom e and the Suburb..................................... 42 Misrecognition of City Filth in Suburbia................................................................................ 46 Conclusion..............................................................................................................................51 4 INCEST AND INTERSEX: BECOMING SUBURBAN IN MIDDLESE X ..........................55 Transcending Difference: Race and Class in Suburbia......................................................... 60 Linking Whiteness and Heterosexuality................................................................................. 65 Deviance Revealed: Callie/Cal............................................................................................... 68 Middlesex, Intersex and Suburbia. .......................................................................................... 73 5 CONCLUSION..................................................................................................................... ..79 LIST OF REFERENCES...............................................................................................................85 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH.........................................................................................................88


5 Abstract of Thesis Presen ted to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts LABORING TO UPHOLD THE IMAGE OF SUBURBIA: REPRESENTATIONS OF DEVIANT SEXUAL DESIRE IN THE VIRGIN SUICIDES AND MIDDLESEX By Mallory Szymanski May 2008 Chair: Trysh Travis Major: Women's Studies This paper argues that Eugenides novels employ instances of deviant sexuality to unmask the efforts of suburbanites to define their living spacesagainst the city as the locus of filthas stable and orderly models of the American Drea m. Existing socio-histor ical scholarship about suburbia contends with a notion of the suburb as a haven for white, middle-class families. Two competing perspectives emerge out of this scholar ship: the first critiques the conformist force of the homogeneous American suburb; the second revises the history of suburbia, complicating the picture by providing evidence of Black suburbanization and worki ng-class suburbs. I conclude that while suburbs have historically housed differences of race and class, the collective imagined suburb includes only white middle-class families. This paper seeks to exte nd the critique of the revisionist scholars by introduc ing sexuality as a category of analysis and exploring representations of dev iant sexuality in suburban literature. My reading of Eugenides' novels suggests that implementing sexuality as a lens through which to interrogate suburban ideologies offers further insight into the ways in which suburbanites define themselves in opposition to th e filth (sexual and otherwise) that resides in the city. In The Virgin Suicides Eugenides demonstrates the s uburban impulse to suffocate the sexual desires of five white, middleclass sist ers, resulting in their suicides. In Middlesex he


6 complicates his critique, showing how race and class differences dissolve behind a faade of normative heterosexual family structure, that is, until, evidence of devian ce surfaces in the birth of an intersexed child. This intervention into suburban discourse will foreground the process by which individuals hold up for themselves the image of the American suburb and exert an enormous effort to achieve and maintain rightful membership in white, middle-class suburbia. This thesis speculates that further interdisciplinary scholarship about suburbia must be done in order to attend to th e dissonance between the image of a white-washed homogeneous suburb and its more complicated experiential coun terpart. I conclude that sexuality, as a category of analysis, connects with race and class in order to emphasize the inherent heterosexuality that frames the image of suburbia. An analysis of sexuality offers a more complete picture of the ways in which individuals labor to conceal their various deviations from suburban norms.


7 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION Am erica in 1951 had a population of 150 million no interstate highways, and only about a quarter as many cars. Men wore hats and ties almost everywhere. Women prepared every meal more or less from scratch. Milk came in bottles. The mailman came on foot. Bill Bryson, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid The America that Bill Bryson describe s as the setting for his youth in his book, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir conjures a specific image of a simple, relaxed and content suburban nation. It res onates with the type of family life and moral code present in television shows such as Leave it to Beaver and Happy Days that depicted a time of economic prosperity, political quiescence and social stability (Marcus 25). A commonsense vision of 1950s America includes single family homes, marri ed couples with children and pets, white picket fences, men in gray flannel suits and housew ives in aprons. Centra l to this image is the overwhelming sense of satisfaction this lifestyle effects. Bryson comments: I can't imagine there has ever been a more gratifying time or pl ace to be alive than America in the 1950s. No country has ever known such prosperity (5). Bryson recalls his childhood suburb as a happy place that put the American Dream within reach for more people than ever before. The pos twar period witnessed an influx of Americans to the suburbs who appropriated their own happy Am erican lifestyle by moving to places like Levittown, purchasing appliances, and mowing their lawns. The image of the American suburb has transf ormed slightly over the twentieth century, but it remains linked to the ideas about what constitutes a happy and normal American life that originate from the 1950s suburb. The continuity of the image over time is reflected in Richard Bachman's fictive account of an Ohio suburb at the end of the twentieth century. In his novel The Regulators, he describes a hot July afternoon on Poplar Street:


8 it's all watermelon and Kool-Aid and foul tips off the end of the bat; it's all the summer you ever wanted and more here in the center of the United States of America, life as good as you ever dreamed it could be, with Chev rolets parked in driveways and steaks in refrigerator meat-drawers waiting to be sla pped on the barbecue in the backyard come evening (and will there be apple pie to follow? What do you think?). This is the land of green lawns and carefully tended flowerbeds; this is the Kingdom of Ohio (20) In this excerpt, Bachman depict s the American suburb as a location where day-to-day existence is happy and carefree. Individuals pursue their own duties and pleas ures but all merge at various points to enjoy a fond sense of community. Life in Bachman's suburb is simple yet uniquely American, fully equipped with baseball and watermelon. These snapshots of the American suburb arti culate the lifestyle it promised for the millions of people who have relocated from urban and rural areas and continue to reside there into the twenty-first century. Noting that the 20 00 U.S. Census reported th at half the American population resides in suburbs, Becky M. Nicolaid es and Andrew Weise at test to the importance of suburbia in the current moment. They conte nd that suburbia is a lands cape that is ubiquitous, a backdrop to life so commonplace that few take cons cious notice of it (1). Thus, while Bryson expresses nostalgia for a happier 1950s suburb, the census shows that 50 percent of Americans still believe in that place and choose to make it their home nearly ha lf a century later. Bachman's description of a 1990s version of America looks very similar to Bryson's memory of his childhood neighborh ood. The fact that 40 years se parates the two indicates the powerful cultural impact the image of the suburb has had over time. Americans' continued desire for suburban life necessitates an interr ogation of the idea of the suburb, specifically because, as Nicolaides and Weise point out, it ha s become so commonplace that to be American means also to be suburban (1). The idea that the suburb serves as a ha ppy refuge for white, middle-class families has indeed been challenged since the middle of th e twentieth century. Two bodies of contestation


9 have emerged out of suburban socio-historical scholarship and criti que the image of the American suburb. On one side, social critics a nd scholars have derided the suburb for fostering unproductive conformity and rendering an American culture that is wh ite-washed, homogeneous and unimpressive. While they confirm the image of the suburb as white and middle-class, they fear that it lacks aesthet ic value. On the other side, scholars have revised this earlier generation of critique by insisting that suburbia does encomp ass diversity and incorporates racial and class difference. They contend that the image of the suburb does not translate to live suburban experience. Chapter Two, America and/as S uburbia: Construction a nd Contestation of the Image of the American Suburb, traces the orig in of the suburb to ei ghteenth century London, where suburbs developed in order to remove whit e, bourgeois women from the filth inherent in the industrial city. Relying on Robert Fishman's characteri zation of London, this chapter illustrates the central role that proper (hetero)sexu ality played in the construction of suburbia. Then, a review of the diverging discourses in the suburban literature reveals that scholars overlook sexuality, in favor of race and class (and in a few cases, gender), in order to leverage their critique. In this gap, I position my analysis of texts that speak to questions of race and class, but also call attention to sexuality as a central axis of difference for interrogating the image of suburbia. Queer studies scholars emphasize the necessity of considering sexuality as a distinct and integral category of analysis in theorizing about spatial organization. In Queer Phenomenology Sara Ahmed investigates spatial organization thro ugh the lens of sexuality. In a discussion about queer orientations of objects in space, she argues that the desire for connection generates likeness, at the same time that likeness is read as the sign of connection (122). This doubling allows communities to perpetually reinforce the naturalness of their likeness, but Ahmed points


10 out that shared attributes are retrospectively taken up as evidence of community (122). Thus it becomes naturalized that queer se xualities belong in m obile, diverse and anonymous cities (as is commonly believed) while white, middle-classnormal families are best suited for the suburb. Ahmed employs the metaphor of peas in a pod, reminding us that peas even from the same pod are hardly similar. However their proxim ity to one another erases difference. In other words, the touching of the peas to one anothe r and to the same podtheir contiguityeffects likeness that is linked to the fam ilial, the familiar. (124). Similarly, the avoidance of difference or the refusal to acknowledge it in suburbia allows for it to disappear from view. Thus, critics of suburban conformity are able to see homoge nization in a far more subtly diverse and cosmopolitan neighborhood. They can select Lev ittown as the signifying example of suburban conformity without considering other cont exts that might suggest otherwise. Ahmed also thinks of institutions as orient ation devices that take the shape of what resides in them (132). She argues that instituti onal spaces are shaped by the proximity of some bodies and not others (132). In the context of suburbia, indeed wh ite bodies gather and cohere (132) to form the edges of such spaces Specifically, white, middle-class, heterosexual bodies define the perimeters of their suburban spaces, and reify them with fences, gates and legislation. To those who inhabit the suburbs, these boundaries are permeable and thus, invisible (or at least, inconsequential) to them. Ahmed re minds us that institutions are created over a long period of repetitive decisions ( 133) which, in the cas e of suburbia is clear. Historical, sociological, and urban planni ng studies reveal the myriad ways suburban boundaries were established and maintained according to strict li nes of race and class. Thus, as Ahmed argues about whiteness as an institution applies fully to suburbia: to those inside suburbia, the lines dividing it from the city are invi sible. However, nonwhite an d/or queer bodiesnon-residents


11 in suburbia are made to feel uncomfortable, exposed, visible and different when they take up this space (133). In order to elucidate the r epetition of decisions (133) th at produce an image of suburbia as distinctly white, middle-cl ass, heterosexual and homogenous I analyze two suburban novels written by Jeffrey Eugenides using sexual ity as a central category of analysis: The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex. These novels take place in subur ban Detroit and foreground instances of deviant sexuality in order to unmask the s uburb as merely an imagined space, one that requires a significant amount of willful labor to perpetuate. The Virgin Suicides tells the story of the five beautiful Lisbon sisters who find them selves suffocated by the normalizing forces of their neighborhood and escape its expectations by committing suicide. Narrated from the perspective of a group of adu lt men who grew up alongside the Lisbon family, the novel recounts the events during the summer between the first girl 's suicide and that of the remaining four. Middlesex is narrated by Cal, an intersexed man who was raised as a girl in a Greek-American family and leads a transient adult life as a member of the Foreign Service. Tracing the incestuous relationship of his grandparents, Cal ou tlines the story of his family's emigration to America and their journey toward becoming memb ers of the American suburb. Ultimately, Cal chooses to leave the suburb in search of hims elf in San Francisco and Berlin, from which he narrates the story. I begin the analysis of Eugenides' novels in Chapter Three, The Threat of Female Heterosexual Desire in The Virgin Suicides, turning to his first nove l to explore the ways deviant female desire disrupts the se xual status quo in suburbia. In The Virgin Suicides we can see that the attempts to contai n the sexualities of the five Lisb on sisters are congruent with the active efforts of suburbanites to perceive their neighborhood as separa te from and superior to the


12 nearby city of Detroit. Eugenides emphasizes the impulse of suburbanites to continually work to uphold the illusion that subur bia is unaffected by and immune to city filth. It also prompts us to look to Middlesex at the way suburbanite s labor to dissolve se xual deviance alongside differences of race and class. Chapter Four, Incest and Intersex: Suburban Sexual Deviance in Middlesex looks at the ways Eugenides extends his crit ique of the suburban myth in his second novel by tracing the journey of a family of Greek immigrants, who secretly engage in incestuous unions, but are able to access racial and class privilege and eventually gain membership in an American suburb. In Middlesex, Eugenides traces the historical developmen t of suburbia alongside the story of the Stephanides familys attempt to grasp the Am erican (suburban) Dream. The novel shows how Cals intersexed identity bars him from suburba n membership in ways that his familys ethnic and class background did not. Th is elaborates my argument a bout white, middle-class female sexuality in The Virgin Suicides by foregrounding the way the Stephanides family becomes suburban, able to dissolve their differences of race and class in order to conceal their incestuous lineage. Cal is the culmination of two generations of deviant sexual desire, a haunting reminder that sexuality in suburbia exists outside traditional boundaries but is continually covered up and ignored. By way of conclusion, I return to the subur ban discourse and the id eological significance of the suburban image and consider how my read ing of Eugenides' novels elaborates on it. Using sexuality as a central category of analysis illuminates the suburbanites continued efforts to define themselves against the deviance of the city and perpetuate the imagined suburb as a haven for reproductive heteronormativity. I suggest that literature serves as a template on which to imagine alternative conception of American suburba n identity. My work raises larger questions


13 that further research might hope to answer by in corporating socio-historic al scholarship as well as literary representations of American suburbs.


14 CHAPTER 2 AMERICA AND/AS SUBURBIA: CONSTR UCTION AND CONTES TATION OF THE IMAGE OF THE AMERICAN SUBURB While the suburban discourse is nuanced and varied, two bodies of thought emerge from the suburban studies literature: those who argue that a homogeneous, white middle-class suburb exists in reality and are fearful (or in some cases, celebratory) of its effects; and those who believe the image to be more complicated and nuanced and that despite the imagined suburb, racial minorities and working-cl ass people have inhabited and c ontributed to the suburbs all along. First, I explore the appr oaches of scholars whose work confirms a homogeneous, whitewashed middle-class landscape in their criticism of th e suburb's tendency to foster conformity. Then, I examine the interventions made in terms of gender, race and class that make a case for diversity in the suburbs. Finally, I evaluate the trend toward lite rature as an ideal location for negotiating suburban identity. I ca ll for the introduction of sexuali ty as a category of analysis through which scholars can expose further grounds for suburban identity formations and also look to literature to illustrate the effects of th e intersections of race, class, gender and sexuality in suburbia. Historicizing the Suburb In order to understand the c onstruction of the suburb as a refuge and haven for white m iddle-class Americans, one must first examine the ideology of filth that ch aracterizes the city in which the suburb defines itself against. Robert Fishman traces the origin of the ideologically filthy city to industr ializing London, calling it birthplace of suburbia, which harbored both literal and figurative dirt that was to be escaped by those who could afford to relocate outside city limits (18). Fishman outlines the devel opment of middle-class suburbs of London that responded to the desire of the British bourgeoisi e to distance themselves from the crowded,


15 dirty, noisy and unhealthy urban ce nter (23). As early as the ei ghteenth century, the ideological foundation of suburbia was defined in relation to its rejected opposite: the metropolis (27). The dichotomous relationship between city and suburb that emer ged from Victorian attitudes about space and place frames the wa y American suburbs would later become characterized. In contrast to early eighteenth century notions of a caste society in which social distinction was not diminished by proximity to the poor, the idea th at maintaining social status required physical segregation de veloped as the nineteenth cent ury approached (32). Several factors contributed to this tre nd. First, Fishman indicates that growing disparity in lifestyle between the wealthy and the poor facilitated an increas ing repulsion for the city and its lower classes. Next, he states that the bourgeoisie family unit turned inward and began to understand the nuclear family to be the overwhelming fo cus of its members' liv es (33). Third, the Evangelical movement that predominated in the second half of the eighteenth century emphasized moral purity, holding the nuclear fam ily as the desirable model and depicting the evils of city life (such as the lo ttery) as imminent threats to the natural order of family. Here, Fishman begins a brief analysis of female sexualit y. He contends that wh ile association with the city and its potential for sin wa s unavoidable for men because they needed to preserve economic ties with it, women could be protected from te mptation by remaining in their proper domestic sphere. Evangelical Christians perceived wo men as creatures whose passions overpowered their wills, Eves and Jezebels quicker to sin than men and thus required insulation from contact with the potentially dangerous urban dwellers (36). The conception of the city as a threat to the purity of (white) bourgeois women tied directly to the high level of mobility women enj oyed in the urban center. They encountered men of varying social statuses which opened up the potential for sexual transgression. Women


16 participated in the workplace, which was often located below the family living space and moved somewhat freely in the public realm. By the nineteenth century, as Delo res Hayden points out in Redesigning the American Dream the notion that a woman's place was in the home pervaded and implied that no decent woman was out in city streets, going places where men went (209). Because home and workplace were often located in the same building, separation of spheres in city spaces was nearly impossible. The presen ce of women, especially working women, in public spaces was increasing understood to indicate se xual availability and a failure of the proper gender order. The nineteenth century belief was that because the working woman was no one urban man's property (her father or her husba nd had failed to keep her at home), she was every urban man's property (210). Hayden emphasizes that this Victorian model rests upon gendered assumptions that the proper sphe re of women was the home and th e rightful place for men was in the public sphere. Thus, contac t between white bourgeois wome n with the urban poor caused anxiety about the purity of women and threat ened to tarnish the moral superiority they demonstrated in their homes. Thus, the suburb functioned as both ideologi cal and literal escape from the real and imagined filth of urban London. The suburb originat ed in opposition to the ci ty and the threat of deviance that mobility and exchange fostered. As both Fishman and Hayden demonstrate, this impulse to constrain and protect the sexual pur ity of white bourgeois wo men motivated many of London's elites to relocate to the suburbs in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. This has direct implications on contemporary pe rceptions of suburban space into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Sociological and hi storical accounts of suburban space indicate that contemporary suburbia continues to rely on the opposition of the suburb to its city with the


17 implicit, yet central, assumption about the necessity to police middle-class white women's sexuality by controlling their mobility. Suburbanization occurred later in the United States than it did in England primarily because industrialization in Amer ican cities occurred at a different pace. Fishman pinpoints the late nineteenth century railroad suburb as the apotheosis of American suburbs. As cities became increasingly populated and modernized, the land just beyond city limits became ideal residential spacefor those who could afford to travel by railroad between home an d city. The railroad provided remarkably rapid access to the center, yet its relatively high cost insulated the bourgeois peripheries from lower-class invasion (136). Fishman contends that in this historical moment, Americans perfected the classic s uburb (135) which was characterized by the pattern of tree shaded streets, broad open lawns, substantial houses set back from the sidewalks (145). The landscape fostered a union between nature and family lif e that allowed white bourgeois families to enjoy their private lives in a space that was clearly separate from the city. As Fishman notes, while the suburb indicates eco nomic and aesthetic succ ess, it is also a testimony to bourgeois anxieties, to deeply buried fears that transl ate into a contempt or hatred for the 'others' who inhabit the city (154). Elite Americans enjoyed insulation from the undesirable city population until the automobile democratized the suburb in the twentieth century. While scholars confirm that working-class people and racial minorities established residency in suburban spaces near the turn of th e twentieth century, the va lues and standards of the white (bourgeois) American middle class pe rvaded. Through statutory, ideological, and cultural means, they reinforced both the barriers and internal m eaning of their own elite suburb (Nicolaides and Weise 4). Follo wing World War II, widespread economic prosperity made it


18 possible for more Americans to own homes, but by then suburbia had become imbued with enormous cultural meaning that would only expa nd later in the century. Through a combination of various cultural representations of suburbia an d legislative measures regulating who could live there, 'good' neighborhoods were perceived to be for the white and middle class. Postwar suburbs such as Levittown advertised not only a home but an American lifestyleone that was strictly reserved for white middle-class families. This lifestyle included proscribed gender roles reminiscent of those of Fishman's eighteenth century London. In fact, the suburb relied on an ideology of separate sphe res because it required specific roles to be fulfilled by each member of a nuclear family: husband worked outside the home and provided monetarily for his family, wife kept house and cared for the children, and children took advantage of the leisure opportuni ties available to them in thei r neighborhood. As the twentieth century wore on, observers began to realize th e cultural impact of suburbia, and many became concerned that this prized American lifestyle br ed conformity and lacked any valuable cultural aesthetic. Critics of American Co nformity in Suburbia By the middle of the twentieth century, sc holars of American suburbs were beginning to recognize various consequences of the increasing migration of white middle-class families out of cities and into suburbs. Advertisements in particular championed the suburb as the apex of the American Dream, symbolic of the success of bot h post-war American capitalism and democracy. They offered American G.I.s the opportunity to partake in the American Dream by purchasing a piece of suburbiafully equipped with state-of-the -art appliances in which they could raise a family and live comfortably. Scholars and critic s, however, launched atta cks on this promise of suburbia from two divergent angles. Some, su ch as William Whyte and Lewis Mumford, were skeptical of the homogeneity that tract housing facilitated and argued that this new way of life


19 imposed conformity upon middle-class America and denied them individuali ty. Other scholars, increasingly as the twentieth century wore on, sought to revise suburban history, claiming that the American suburb is in fact, diverse on severa l levels. These revisionists insist that the conformist suburb is a mere ideology and that people of various race and class backgrounds laid claim to the American suburb. However, propone nts on each side of the polemic understand that the ideology of suburbia has increasingly become synonymous w ith America. But scholars disagree about whether the white, middle-class Amer ican suburb exists in reality or only as a shared perception of such place. The myth of s uburbia arose out of this debate, a phrase used to denote the disparity between the promise of homeownership and material success in places like Levittown and the actual delivery of a false sense of homogeneity and ultimately, a way of life not distinctly different from that in the city (Berger 39). In When America Became Suburban (2006), Robert A. Beauregard combines sociological and historical evidence to retrace the formulation of American national identity that occurred precisely at the collision of suburbanization, dom estic prosperity and global dominance of the United States. He terms this time period betw een the 1940s and the 1970s the short American Century (xiii). He argues th at conceptions of post-war American life were rooted in mass consumption, a new way of living that centere d on commodities and white collar labor. Advertising and television portray ed an uncritical picture of subur bia, citing ads for dishwashers and shows like Leave it to Beaver that insisted the American Dream was attainable in the suburb. Beauregard explains this impulse to presen t an image of the suburban way of life [as] ideologically and substantively clean and uniquely American as opposed to the filthy, racialized and riotous city as a political maneuver to situate American democracy and capitalism uniquely against both communism and their European cultural heritage. The opportunity to


20 safeguard and insulate the home front and th e nuclear family within suburban boundaries motivated suburbanites distance them selves from the evils fostered in the city and beyond (159). The suburbs symbolized both political freedom and freedom of consumer choice to the industrializing Western European nations and of fered a uniquely American alternative to communism (170). And for many Americans, the s uburb was an alternative that was attainable, even sensible. Suburbanization led to Ameri can exceptionalism because no other nation in the world had made such a lifestyle so desirable and readily available to its citizens as did the United States during the 25 years after World War II. T hus, a national identity arose from the suburban landscape, characterized by freedom, progress and a shared sense that Americans are always in the process of becoming (183). Beauregard foregrounds the intellectual and l iterary critiques of the conformity, boredom and homogenization that resulted from tract housi ng, consumer culture and domestic life. (138). These critiques, ironically, were made at the sa me time families were rushing to the suburbs, namely in the 1960s and 1970s (141). Lewis Mumf ord's often quoted description of the tract housing developments and the lifestyles availabl e to their residents illustrates the powerful cultural force of the suburb. In 1961, he characte rized the suburbs of the United States as: a multitude of uniform, unidentifiable houses, lined up inflexibly, at uniform distances, on uniform roads, in a treeless communal wast e, inhabited by people of the same class, the same income, the same age group, witn essing the same television performances, eating the same tasteless prefabricated f oods, from the same freezers, conforming in every respect to a common mold, manufactured in the central metropolis. [In short] the suburban escape in our time is, ironica lly, a low-grade uniform environment from which escape is impossible. (6)


21 Mumford's critique indicates the costs of suppos edly achieving the American Dream through the suburban way of life. The result was a social cl ass of organization men who were reduced to mere mechanisms of the Amer ican capitalist, cultural regime. Since Mumford's early characterization of the suburb as vacant of cu ltural or intellectual capital, scholars have continued to attack the suburb as a homogenizing force that fo sters a distinctly powerfulbut ultimately deceptiveimage of what it means to be American. Liberal feminists posited a ge ndered critique of the conformi ty of the suburb, specifically attacking the role of housewife it pr oscribed for women. Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique published in 1963, describes a widespread dissatisfacti on among suburban women and its expectations of femininity. Freidan explains that many women did not find fulfillment in housework and appliances as popular images of the suburb suggest they should. Instead, the suburb trapped them in roles that prevented th em from maximizing their abilities outside the home. For Friedan and her readers, the separate spheres that the subur bs encouraged did not bring happiness but resulted in feelings of emptiness and despair. Despite the economic prosperity and general optimism, suburban wome n were haunted in their homes (Clapson 130). Observers of suburbia highlight various consequences of a conformist white middle-class that were not made obvious in the promising depi ctions of suburban lifestyles present in print and visual media. Two crucial phenomena emer ge from homogenizing forces of the American suburb, as represented in the sc holarship: the creati on of a private, non-confrontational moral order and the invisibility of whiteness. An overview of the ways in which scholars articulate the moral order and whiteness poses fu rther critiques of suburb and al so leaves gaps that later, revisionist scholars will take up with evidence of suburban diversity.


22 The loosely connected social environment of suburbia fosters a sense of indifference that is often read by observers as a peaceable lifestyl e. However, scholars such as M.P. Baumgartner and Lorraine Delia Kenny have understood this as moral minimalism, or the avoidance of conflict that is ultimately damaging. M.P. Baumgartner defines moral minimalism in his book, The Moral Order of a Suburb (1988) as an approach in which people prefer the least extreme reactions to offenses and are reluctant to exercise any social control against one another at all (Baumgartner 3). Baumgartners anthropologi cal study of Hampton, a suburb of New York, reveals the extent to which residents keep conflicts privat e, sometimes resolving family problems quietly and internally but most often avoiding them alt ogether (42). Baumgartner concludes that the custom of moral minimalism in the family is transmitted to the larger context of the suburban communities. Thus, a common practice of avoidance and indifference pervades in the American suburb. This perception is congruent with the beli ef that social control is dirty and unpleasant work (130) and so confrontati on is strongly discourag ed. In fact, staying away from an offensive neighbor becomes the naturalized response of reasonable, mature adults (131). Thus, avoidance becomes the norm and a lienation develops among neighbors. Kennys evaluation of moral minimalism in Daughters of Suburbia results from her ethnographic study of eighth grade suburban white girls. She finds their suburban environment encourages a moral minimalism that does not crea te space for critical consciousness about right and wrong, good and bad, but instead provides for the girls only a cursory understanding of their morals and values. For example, a discussion of abortion in class was quickly diverted to the topic of the only non-white students pretty Korean name as oppos ed to her boring American one (23). This functioned as a scapegoat so th at the girls would not have to firmly claim a


23 position for themselves or discover that they disagr ee with one another. Kenny labels this sort of avoidance as acting white in that they effo rtlessly and unselfconsciously deracialized the norm (25). This small example serves as an indicator for the ways whiteness functions in suburbia as invisible. Congruent with the preference to avoid confrontation in favor of distant but friendly exchange, Kenny finds that suburban whites fail to acknowledge the cultural capital and social privilege their whiteness provides. Whites are pe rceived to be without race in suburbia which allows them to enjoy their priv ilege through various silences, disavowels, and rationalizations (46). Racial identity, unnamed and inexplic able for Kenny's white, middle-class informants, remains powerfully invisible. Also, in the void of real-lif e Others in suburbia, Kenny finds that suburbanites construct imaginary Others in order to stabilize their norma tivity. Media representations of Otherness, in particular, aid in the ability for suburban dwellers to consider questions of race or issues of reproductive rights as some one elses problem. Ke nnys eighth graders believe themselves to be insulated from these issues and as a result, entirely uncritical about them. They take their privilege for granted, Kenny concludes, because nothing about their greenhouse existence forces them to do otherwise. The girls end up leading storyless (normal) lives that cannot account for difference in any productive way (199). Instead, they reproduce the suburban belief that one is simply born white by disavowing differen ce and telling white lies (198). According to Baumgartner's assessment of moral minimalism and Kenny's critical evaluation of the functioning of whiteness in subu rbia, the ways in which suburbanites come to understand their own identities lies in the security of the knowable and the similar. Thus,


24 through conventions such as moral minimalism a nd invisible whiteness, suburbia can avoid or ignore any challenges to the homogeneous suburban ideal. The analyses of suburban spaces by scholar s such as Mumford, Beauregard, and Kenny argue for the acknowledgment of the individual investment of suburbanites in upholding an image of the suburban American Dream. Political and social ideologies, perceptions (or, in Kennys case absence of perception) about race, and understandings of community are continually and reciprocally formed and info rmed by suburbia. Thus, according to these scholars, suburbia is a uniform environment (Mumford 6) that encourages conformity, upholding white, middle-class, heterosexual family values. It is established not only through tract-housing and legisla tion but by interpersonal practices that perpetuate the ideological distinction between city filth, di versity and deviance and the ideal suburban way of life. In other words, the ideology of suburbia requires willf ul performances that with enough repetition become normalized and thus, the city-s uburb divide becomes naturalized. Revisionist Criti que of Suburbia While m any scholars denounce suburbs as whitewashed wastelands, ot hers counter this characterization by attending to race and class as categories for analyzing suburbia. Suburban scholars who aim to reveal the commonsense image as unrepresentative of the population of the American suburbs have examined specifically Bl acks and the working class. These scholars do not evaluate the moral, cultural or aesthetic valu e of suburb as the critics of conformity did. Most revisionist scholars write at least a generation after Mumford and Whyte and seek to complicate the connection between the image of a conformist suburbia and its experiential counterpart. Drawing from the ra pid rate of diversification of suburbs that began in the 1970s, suburban scholarship also benefited from a theore tical shift toward multiculturalism in the 1980s.


25 Scholars began to rewrite the history of the Am erican suburb as a place that fostered some diversity, despite overt attempts to prevent it. While the suburbs offered protection from th e crime and random violence prevalent in the city, Black families were subject to racial discrimination and threats there as well. Despite the passage of Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act in 1968, often referred to as the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits racial discrimination in the sale, rental, and financ ing of housing, racial minorities experienced implicit racism as they m oved to the suburbs (Loewen 136). In other words, throughout the 1970s, Blacks were in the suburbs but not of the suburbs (Lake 3). Writing in the early 1980s, Robert C. Lake argue s that race lines were merely replicated in suburban space, which means, at the individua l level, suburbanization for blacks connotes constrained residential choice, a restricted and less efficient housing search process, and limited opportunities for housing equity and w ealth accumulation (239). Revisionist scholars contend w ith the body of scholar ship that that re ifies the suburb as the locus of racism, redlining and intolerance. They also respond to the criticism of conformity to complicate the gap between those become repr esentative of suburbia (the white middle class) and those who also actually liv e there (which includes racial minorities and poor and working class). If contemporary suburbia [is no longer] the stuff of television reruns (Lang 7), then revisionist scholars aim to r econstruct a suburban collective memory that can account for diverse values and priorities (Mattingly 49). Despite redlining and other discriminatory practices intended to keep African Americans and other racial minorities out of the suburbs, members of the Bl ack middle class did begin to migrate there after 1960 (Clapson 82 ). Several factors enabled Bl ack suburbanization. While overflowing city ghettos and decentr alization legislation of urban slums contributed to the push


26 of African Americans toward suburban spaces, Ci vil Rights activism and African Americans exercise of choice were centra l vehicles for black suburbaniza tion. The suburban aspiration for African Americans functioned sim ilarly to the ways it did for white Americans. Avoiding the city, procuring a house with a garden and re siding in the suburban neighborhood itself were motives for both Blacks and whites who relocate d from urban or rural areas (51). The burgeoning Black middle class sought after the safety, comfort and privacy that suburbia promised. By 1960, nearly 3 million African Americans resided in suburbia. Black families who did settle in suburbia enjoyed many of the a dvantages of suburban life, particularly better schooling, safety, mob ility and social integration. For those who remained in the suburbs and withstood racial discrimination benefited from the opportunities afforded by the suburban way of life. In some cases, government intervention countered discriminatory practices and encouraged Bl ack suburbanization. For example, Chicago implemented the Gatreaux Assisted Housing Pr ogram in 1976 to desegregate housing areas in the city and relocate racial minorities and work ing-class families to the suburbs (Rubinowitz and Rosenbaum 40). Through legislation such as this, the suburban idealin some form became attainable for many Blacks and working-cla ss people that were previously excluded from it. The declining inner city of Chicago made s uburban life seem an attractive alternative. The program offered an escape to suburbia that prom ised to benefit participants' safety, their children's schooling and social relations, and their own job opportunities (54). Revisionist scholarship often tr eats class as a category of anal ysis that is distinct from (yet related to) race. This body of work illustra tes that not all suburban spaces are reserved for middle-class Americans. In fact working-class streetcar and i ndustrial suburbs proliferated by the end of the nineteenth century (Nicolaides and Weise 3). Co mposed mostly of blue collar


27 workers who labored in nearby factories, these neighborhoods operated communally. Many residents built their own houses, tended vegetable gardens and raised livestock. These efforts allowed them to experience their own ve rsion of the suburban ideal (3). Working-class and lower-income suburbs continued to grow following World War II. (Muller 74). Sociological evidence also points to suburbia as a home to the poor; they are scattered throughout suburban spaces. While th e imagined suburb relies on a firm boundary between middle-class Americans and the poor and work ing class, this is not the lived reality for many suburbanites. The attitudes and values of working-class suburbanites also differ from their more affluent counterparts. They are characte rized by social interaction through local informal groups, a lively street culture th at fosters community cohesiveness, and a lack of aspiration for upward mobility. This portrait of working-cla ss and poor suburban life contrasts sharply the vision of the middle-class suburb which is ster eotypically vacuous of communal relationships and instead driven by materi al gain and consumerism. Taking into consideration the various interventions posited by revisionist scholars, suburban critic Bennett Berger concludes: Clearly then, one suburb (or one kind of suburb) is likely to differ from another not only in terms of the cost of its homes, the in come of its residents, their occupations and commuting patterns, but also in terms of its educational levels, the character of the region, the size of the suburb, the social and geographical or igin of its residents, and countless more indicesall of which, presumably, may be expected to lead to differences in way of life. (39) Revisionist scholars have interven ed at crucial points to counte r the notion that the suburb is a site of white, middle-class conformity and to ch allenge the predominant image that extends from that perception. Indeed, racial minorities live and have lived in suburbia and working-class families have carved out spaces for themselves as well. This critical juncture in suburban scholarship presses for a revisioning of the American suburb as a multicultural and diverse place


28 that does incorporate various ways of life. It foregrounds the disparity be tween the image of the suburb and its experiential realit y and creates discursive space for exploring further axes of difference that are present there. Searching for Suburbia in Literature As revisionist scholars point out, the subur b that produces robotic Organization Men in gray flannel suits is an incomplete picture. The suburb as a haven for white middle-class families who occupy identical housing and perpetuate a conformist American culture is not the only model of the American suburb. More recent socio-historical eviden ce proves that suburban populations do include working-class and poor Amer icans as well as Blacks and other racial minorities. Despite these historical interventions, the image of a white, middle-class suburb remains hegemonic. Thus, when Bill Bryson recalls his childhood suburb and Richard Bachman illustrates an Ohio neighborhood, each is really c onjuring a representation of suburbia. This representation does not account for diverse racial identities, cl ass backgrounds or gender roles that clearly exist there. Instead, the image of the suburb functions as a literary construction. The whiteness and middle-class status that presumably formulate the foundation of suburbia do not properly reflect demographic information; it is a narrative about the United States and Americanness. As the polemic within suburban discourse demonstrates, this narrative carries considerable cultural consequences. It helps to shape conceptions ab out what it means to be American throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. The image of the white middle-class suburb stands at odds with the more complicated picture posited by revisionist scholars. Because the suburb represents a place that in actuality, is more subtly diverse that the image accounts for, to begin to understand it, we must examine literature.


29 Literary texts are appropriate places to i nvestigate the already my thologized setting of suburbia and explore the ways auth ors negotiate with its construc tedness. (Price 126). Suburbia offers a lens through which to examine the deta ils of every day suburban life and the meanings and implications for the fictive suburbanites that are involved. From this analytical standpoint, perfunctory activities su ch as mowing the lawn, cleaning the house or helping out a neighbor become politicized; as part of commonsense vision of suburbia, they become part of the larger dialectic about who lives there versus who gets to be represented Thus, a move from historical and sociological scholarship to literary constructions of suburbi a allows observers to tease out the intrinsic complexity and heterogeneity that characterizes the meaning making of suburbanites' lives. Also, the image is a familiar trope, resonating with readers as part of a shared imagined place. Fictive accounts of suburban life can manipulate that commonsense trope to reveal to readers its inherent incongruity. The impulse to look to literature for a br oader understanding of suburbia, for Roger Webster, stems from the fact that suburbia has no history; its archives are empty. There is no depth from which archeology might exhume its artifac ts. (Webster 2). Referring to the critique of suburban conformity, this perspe ctive of suburbia renders it a dept hless and artifici al site that bears little nuance. In an attempt to complicate this prevailing image, Webster locates literature as the primary site for exploring the complexity of the various intersections suburban space, American identities and meaning making. If suburbia signifies the absence of culture, th e lack of aesthetics, th en that very absence of signification becomes a haunting presence (2 ), a paradox Webster tu rns to narrative to explain. Literary representations unmask the si mulacrum of suburbia by using it as a backdrop for which to craft individuality and subjectivity (4). Due to trends in cultural studies and


30 interdisciplinary scholarship, litera ture about suburbia has shifted fr om an external perspective to an internal one, allowing those inside suburbia define their subjectivities in relation to it rather, as has been traditionally done since the nine teenth century, in opposition to it (3). If we understand suburbia as simultaneously consumer and producer of culture, as Webster suggests, then literature can provide a discursive space in which to understand it. A recent trend of literary representati ons of suburbia is to characteri ze it as a liminal space, drawing attention to the cond ition of in-betweenness reflecting an uncomfortably rootless position ascribed to the suburbs (Lea 141) Narratives can explore more freely the ways people wrestle personally with their feelings of belonging and alienation in suburbia precisely because their constructedness allows for imaginative repres entations and meaning making (141). Scholars from both sociological and historical traditions suggest literature as a place from which to understand racial and class divisi ons that have shaped and been shaped by the image of the American suburb. Revisionist sc holarship discredits the whit e, middle-class suburb ideal by introducing data about the presence of Blacks and working-class families. Thus, the commonsense vision of suburbiaBryson's childhood neighborhood and Bachman's Poplar Street remains cohesive, despite addition of raci al and class minorities into suburban history. Thus, analysis of literary characte rizations of the suburb facilitates an evaluation of the ways the suburb functions as an ideology. Suburbia and Sexuality The im age of suburbia exists as an ideal mark er of American middle-class identity. In order to make a claim for diversity, some scholar s examine the various racial identities, class backgrounds and gender ideologies that challenge the dominant paradigm of white, middle-class, educated family as only desirable model for suburb ia. Scholars have relied on narrative analyses to nuance the critique of suburbi a and provide commentary on the lived experience of life in the


31 suburbs. However, in this push to complicate an d revise the discourse, sexuality has remained outside the ever-widening focus. While heterosexual family structure is foundational to the suburban ideology, scholars who challenge ot her normative elements of suburbia (that is, whiteness and middle-class status) fail to interroga te the presumption of heterosexuality. The commonsense vision of the suburb relies on heterosexual marriage a nd proscribes distinct roles for women (wife and mother) as well as men (husband, father and breadwinner). Both the critics of conformity and revisionist scholars neglec t to notice that assump tion of heterosexuality functions similarly as that of whitene ss and middle-class status. Discussion of sexuality within suburban disc ourse is limited to a critique of the repressiveness of traditional gender roles se t in place by heterosexual marriage contracts, invoking the suburban impulse to police female sexuality that Fishman describes in 18th century London. For example, Constance Perin indicates sexual activity in suburbia is perceived to disrupt social life, encouraging a fear and silence around sexuality (Perin 173). As Betty Friedan and Dolores Hayden argue, suburbia has served to maintain Victorian noti ons about gender roles and domesticity, shrouding female sexuality with a cloak of privacy. The suburb relies on a foundational rejection of the sexual availability the city facilitates for white women, yet sexuality remains absent as a critical lens through whic h to contest and complic ate the ideal of the American suburb. The gap in the discourse around female (het ero)sexual desire also calls for further interrogation into other deviat ions from the norm. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender identities are instances of se xual deviance that remain unacknowledged by suburban scholars. Queer studies scholars, many drawing from litera ry traditions, advocate a central focus on sexual desire and deviance as well as queer sexualities and identities.


32 Queer sexualities are often perceived as bel onging in the city. Urban spaces have not only been locations for female heterosexual devi ance, but are also largely conceptualized as meccas for queer sexualities. The belief that the cosmopolitan city supplies a haven for queer identities and desires is evidenced by Judith Ha lberstam's admission that she, too, uncritically conceived of urban space as progressive and fr iendly to queers as opposed to rural spaces that were backward and dangerous pl aces to conduct queer lives. In a Queer Time and Place explores Halberstam's own biases regarding the urban-rural divide and interrogates the pervasiveness of the con cept of metronormativity that, in her analysis, reveals the conflation of 'urban' and 'visible' as opposed to rural and cl oseted (36). She attends to the ways in which rural spaces are perceived as clos ets that are characterized as hostile environments for queer identities. Halberstam discusses specifically the urbanrural divide because she is concerned with the life story and media representations of Brandon Teena, however the suburb aligns ideologically on the side of the rural in this case. Lawrence Knopp points out the portrayal of gentrified gay neighborhoods such as San Fran cisco's Castro district as centres of hedonism and self-indulgence, of other gay entertainment areas (such as San Francisco's South-of-Market) as dangerous sadomasochistic underworlds, of red-light districts as threatening to 'family values', of non-white neighborhoods as centres of rape, or alternatively, of suburbs as places of blissful monogamous (and patriarchal) heterosexuality. (193) Scholarship about queer identities and desires ha s centered on urban spaces primarily because of the institutional representation and visibility of ten available there. However, as Halberstam, Knopp and other scholars ar gue, cities are not the only viable spaces where queer identities are carried out and they are not the quintessential refuge from suburban heteronormativity. Also, as discussed earlier in this chapte r, the perceived proper natural and desirable orientations of space emphasize individual spaces, divided livi ng quarters, homeownership and


33 the unblemished lawn, free from weeds, dandeli ons, dog feces or planted tires (Perin 31) as symbolic achievement of the American Dream. Implicit in that articulation is the heterosexual family. For example, Delores Hayden remarks on the myriad ways domestic spaces come to shape womens natural roles as wives and mother s. The negation of fema le sexual desire and its ideological relegation to marriage and moth erhood leaves the image of suburban housewife steadfast in the American vision of the suburb. Certainly, the lack of atte ntion to queer sexuality in suburban scholarship also speaks to the ways queers have been discounted as sexual deviants and precluded from active participation in the American suburban imaginary and instead perceived as belonging in and shaped by urban filth. While revisionist scholars sought to comp licate the picture of the American suburb by introducing evidence of Blacks, working-class a nd poor people that have called suburbia home since its inception, the axis of sexual diversity remains invisible. He terosexuality stands unchallenged by suburban critics from both sides of the polemic resulting in a further reified norm. In response to this oversight in the discourse, I invoke queer studies scholarship and introduce sexuality as a category of analysis for understanding the construction of the suburb in Jeffrey Eugenides' novels. Because sexuality inex tricably informs constr uctions of race, class and gender, previous disregard for it results in an incomplete chal lenge and critique to the image of suburbia. Employing an inte rsectional model that accounts fo r a multiplicity of simultaneous identities (race, class, gender, sexuality, and nation) will effect a more nuanced reading of The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex and open larger questions about how the suburban image functions as a regulator of sexuality.


34 CHAPTER 3 THE THREAT OF FEMALE HETEROSEXUAL DESIRE IN THE VI RGIN SUICIDES Containment and protection of female heterosexual desire motivated members of the white middle class to relocate to suburban spa ces since the eighteenth century. As Robert Fishman illustrates, the foundation for the ideolo gical construction of the suburb as a morally superior alternative to the indus trialized city rests on the percei ved necessity to confine white bourgeois women in order to ensure their sexual purity. Defined in binary opposition to the city, the twentieth-century American suburb is inte rpolated through advertisements, print and televisual media, fiction and so cio-historical schola rship as the realization of the American Dream. While suburban discourse complicates the ideology of s uburb as a sexual refuge through explorations of race and class, it is integral to recognize the ge ndered implications for the suburb that originate in industrializing Victorian London because it is within this tradition Jeffrey Eugenides situates his articulation of late tw entieth-century American female sexuality in The Virgin Suicides. Eugenides constructs an unnamed suburb of De troit as the backdrop for the explanation and critique of the suburb's inhe rent repression of female hetero sexual desire. The decision to leave the suburb unidentified invites two congrue nt interpretations. First, the setting of The Virgin Suicides recalls the Detroit suburb in which Euge nides grew up (Callado-Rodriguez 37). Second, the anonymity of the suburb allows it to stand in as the prototypical suburb, simultaneously ideologically pervasive yet impossibl e to define in certain terms. Furthermore, the city of Detroit carries significant symbolic meaning: As the literal en gine of progress for the twentieth century, Detroit represents the heart of socioeconom ic American culture, the hub of industry for which the suburbs act as a fortifying mechanism and i dyllic shelter for the achievers of the American Dream (Womack and Mallory-K ani 165). Eugenides draws from the cultural


35 legacy of Detroit as a location in which industr ial development had a close and early link with suburbanization (Kenyon 3). Cultural historian of Detroit Amy Maria Kenyon recognizes the significance of Detroit to the histor y of suburbia but she explicitly de nies that its suburbs stand as a universal model (3). However Eugenides disagrees. He commen ts, Detroit, to my mind, is one of the very important American cities, wh ere things happened that are emblematic of American history: the rise of the auto industr y, the race riots of 1967. In addition, lots of culture has come out of Detroit (qtd. in Schiff 114). Detroit also is a notorious center for poverty, crime, pollution and other filth, an exaggerated space from which to elucidate the city/suburb binary. Thus, the effect of allowing the specific location of The Virgin Suicides to remain nameless precipitates a reading of the novel as addressing the condition of suburbia as both specific to Detroit a nd also indicative of larg er cultural implications. Within this context, Eugenides emerges as a suburban author, situating his narratives first The Virgin Suicides and later, Middlesex within the same socio-historical moment of 1970s suburban Detroit. He invokes a rich history of industrialization, Ford factories, immigration, racial tension and economic decline. The suburb features significantly in The Virgin Suicides forcing the reader to contend with it as Eugenides presents it. It is suburbia that Eugenides seeks to critique and he does so by intervening in the image of the American suburb with instances of deviant sexual desire. The effect is an unravelin g of an image that is tied to an existing place with a narrative of its own: an actualalbeit unnamedsuburb of Detroit. Another function of the nameless setting for The Virgin Suicides is the distance it creates between Eugenides' own childhood on which he draw s in order to create the setting for the novel (qtd. in Schiff 112). In order to launch a meani ngful and poignant critique of the place he comes from, Eugenides must establish a buffer between his lived experience and the fictive one in the


36 novel. Forcing a gap between himself and the suburb creates discursive space from which he can critique an ideal with which he is intimately familiar. The unnamed suburb coupled with the collective narrator that tells the story retrospectiv ely form a rhetorical duality of the author's distance and proximity to the subject of the novelthe suburb. As a result, Eugenides writes from a well-informed, reliable position to launch a nuanced, careful critique of the American suburb. This question of distance/proximity will recur later in chapter regarding the discussion of the narrators. In The Virgin Suicides Eugenides introduces the narrative of the five Lisbon girls who, as is foreshadowed by the title and revealed in the opening pages of the novel, escape suburbia via suicide. Narrated by a collec tive group of adult men who liv ed nearby the girls as youth, The Virgin Suicides memorializes the death of the Lisbon gi rls by recounting the events during the year between the attempt of the first sister, Cecilia, and the su bsequent suicides of the four remaining girls. The narrators trace the simulta neous deterioration of their neighborhood in an attempt to elucidate both the cause and the conse quence of the tragic lo ss of the virginal yet desirous adolescent girls. They embark on an obsessive journey to capture the memory of the Lisbon girls, piecing together vari ous source materials in order to speculate about the motivation for their suicide. A tension emerges between Detroit and the suburb in which the Lisbon girls serve as a metonym for the sexualized filth of the city that threatens to corrupt and unmask the illusory suburb. This tension is revealed by the various moments in the text in which suburbanites willfully ignore the c itys presence, choosing to reinte rpret its warning signs or to not acknowledge them at all. An analysis of the ways the narrators re construct the memory of the Lisbon girls distills three di stinct methods suburba nites employ in order to perpetuate the suburban image: repression, restoration and misr ecognition. First, Mrs. Lisbon (in addition to


37 other implicit forces) functions as the repressive guardian over her daughters' sexualities by containing both their desires and their bodies under suffocating le vels of surveillance. Second, they counter the denigration of the Lisbon home th at occurs alongside the grieving process of the family over their loss of Cecilia by cleaning up any visual reminders of instability or deviance. Restoration of the home, the lawn and the neighb orhood figures centrally in the suburb's effort to define itself as a beacon of purityboth sexual and social. Fi rst, suburbanites in the novel continually misrecognize indicators of city presence in their ne ighborhood and inst ead reinterpret or ignore them. In each of th ese instances, suburbanites in The Virgin Suicides choose to ignore the looming presence of Detroit, resulting in an overall schema of willfulyet unacknowledgedlabor performed in order to main tain the ideological boundary between city and suburb. The novel opens with a sense of nostalg ia for a suburban neighborhood that was once idyllic. The narrators introduce their first piece of many pieces of evidence they collect in their memorial of the Lisbon girls. Labeled Exhibi t #1, a snapshot of the Lisbon home, taken by a real estate agent prior to Cec ilia's first suicide attempt suggest s a recent suburban past that existed harmoniously with the image of the Amer ican suburb (5). Described as a comfortable suburban home the Lisbon house was once a prototype of suburban life in a time when the slate roof had not yet begun to sh ed its shingles, the porch was st ill visible above the bushes, and the windows were not yet held together with strips of masking tape (5). The photograph illustrates that at one point, prior to the suicides of the Lisbon girls, life in this suburb of Detroit was stable, even happy. At the very least, life was normal. The photograph is tattered, an indication th at the suburban status quo represented there exists only as a faded memory. The image conjured by the picture is reminiscent of


38 uninterrupted, pristine lives previously carried out in th e Lisbons' neighborhood but also representative of an extra-dieg etic longing for an American way of life that the suburb no longer delivers. The photograph foreshadows the declin e of both the Lisbon home and the suburb, but also recognizes the necessity fo r the boys to retrace their subu rban histories and recover the memory of a suburb that would otherwise be lo st. Thus, the novel attends, from the beginning, to the competing narratives about the Lisbon girls and the suburb: th e sterilized, nearly forgotten story that the suburb selectively tells and the retelling by the narrators that complicates and contradicts it. An analysis of the various ways suburbanites (fail to) resp ond to the suicides of the Lisbon girls illustrates the na turalized labor required by the pare nts of the suburb to maintain an illusion of an enclosed, regulated space. Th e arduous efforts of the na rrators to reconstruct the past of their childhood suburb, then, reveals their own awareness that the suburb of their parent's generation is a fiction, and while they are complicit in th e reproduction of that fiction, their consciousness of it is, in a small way, also a critique. Policing Female Sexuality: Repressi on of the Lisbon Girls' Desire Eugenides demonstrates the va rious ways the suburbanites in The Virgin Suicides work vigorously to maintain the illusion that their suburb is a safe haven for white middle-class families, defined against the filth and deviance of the city. Their efforts are foregrounded through the active repressi on of the sexuality of Lisbon girls. As discussed in the previous chapter, suburbia hinges upon the control of fema le sexuality, confini ng women to reproductive roles of wife and mother while denying them sexual agency. The suburb in general, but also Mrs. Lisbon specifically, work diligently to ensure the sexuality of the Lisbon girls is controlled because they have a vested interest in the girls virginity. Their suburban imaginary depends on the repression of female sexual de sire and thus, must be policed.


39 Mrs. Lisbon is the key guardian of her daughters sexualities. Characterized by the neighbors as embodying queenly iciness, she mon itors the girls bodies for signs of make-up and forbids revealing clothing (8). She assemb les homemade dresses that desexualize the girls with their low hems and bagginess and attest to thei r virginity with the accents of lace. Kenneth Womack and Amy Mallory-Kani describe the Lisbon parents as jostled by fears of the rampant promiscuity sometimes desired by pubescent girl s en route to sexual maturity, [and so they] inhibit excessive amounts of social interaction between their daught ers and others in their age bracket of the opposite sex (169). Despite Mrs. Lisbons continued efforts to conceal and the girls bodies from the eyes of adolescent boys, the narrators are fascinated by their beauty. Throughout the novel, the narrators serve as voyeurs, observing the gi rls obsessively while always awar e that the girls were out of their reach, unattainable and impe netrable. They comment, whenever we got a glimpse [of the girls], their faces looked indecently revealed, as though we were used to seeing women in veils (8). Despite this intense obsession with the Lisbon girls, they cannot locat e its origin or explain its significance, even ye ars later as adults. Cecilia's psychiatrist, Dr. Hornicker, offers one explanation for her condition following her initial suicide attempt. He concludes her suicide was an act of a ggression inspired by the repression of adolescent libidinal urges (21). Dr. Hornicker suggests to Mr. and Mrs. Lisbon that they relax their rules and permit the gi rls to interact with boys their own age (21). Momentarily, they reform their restrictive polic ies. Not only did they allow boys allowed to enter the house for the first time (22), but th ey also hosted a chaperoned party to which many neighborhood boys received invitations (24).


40 The party exists in the boys' memory as a dis tinct turning point for th e Lisbon girls. They recall that as guests nerv ously congregate in the basement, Cecili a excuses herself from the party. She climbs upstairs and leaps from a window ont o the fence. Mrs. Lisbon, recognizing that temporary relaxation of her stringent rules on ly pushed Cecilia over the edge, responds by intensifying the isolation of the remaining four girls. For most of the summer of Cecilias suicide, the girls remain inside, lo cked away from outside influence. They return to school in the fall, but are barred from any extracu rricular activities and do not soci alize with their peers. They stand as a unified body in the memory of the narrators, moving through the hallways of the school almost as if they were apparitions. The narrators recall various sightings of the Lisbon girls who merged into general image of ski rts growing transparent in the light and who would vanish if followed (100). The elusiveness of the Lisbon girls piques the interest of the neighborhood boys. The more Mrs. Lisbon isolated the girls, the more curious the boys became. One classmate of the girls, Trip Fontaine, ta kes particular interest in Lux and convinces Mr. and Mrs. Lisbon to allow him and his friends to take Lux and her sisters to the Homecoming dance. At the dance, each Lisbon girl experien ce their new social freedom differently, but Luxs actions bring about the most seve re consequences for the girls. Crowned Homecoming King and Queen, Trip and Lux sneak out of the dance, away from the surveillance of Mr. Lisbon and escapes to the football field. Trip confesses later to the narrators that jus t got sick of her right then and leave her to find her own way home (138). When Lux arrives home hours after curfew, Mrs. Lisbon is listening to church music, the kind of music they play when you die while she Lisbon disciplines her daughter (135). The music fo reshadows the suicides of the remaining Lisbon girls, but more immediately the death of the newly experienced social freedom they each had tasted that evening.


41 Luxs disobedience leads Mrs. Lisbon to s hut the house in maximumsecurity isolation (141). She forces the girls to withdraw from sc hool, explaining that it was her motherly duty to shelter them from boys while th ey continued to mourn Cecilia s death (142). The control she exerts on the girls sexualities through shapeless clothing and ex treme isolation exemplifies the level of labor required to plug up the cracks in the suburban my th. Mrs. Lisbon functions in the novel primarily as the guardian of her daughters sexuality. Her obligation as suburban mother is to contain female sexual desire and ensure it is only expressed thr ough the proper avenues of heterosexual marriage and motherhood. Thus, th e Lisbon home transforms into a metaphorical bunker, with canned goods piled up in the basement When Mr. Lisbon resigns from his position at the school, no one entered or left the home. The narrators recall a distinct odor emanating from the house that smelled of decay and rot but also contained too much syrup to be death itself (165). Despite the enormous pressure to remain c ontentedly contained in their home, the Lisbon girls resist in subtle ways. Therese transcended her suburba n isolation by communicating in Morse code through the genderless, nationless medium of a hand radio with an unidentified person in Columbia. The girls experienced the wo rld outside their suburb an prison through travel catalogs. Lux, in particular, rebelled against he r imprisonment, participating in clandestine sex acts with working-class boys on the roof. Mrs. Lisbon put forth her best efforts to contain her daughters sexualities, yet they found ways to imagine themselves out of their prison. Even extreme isolation away from any potential threat of corruption (in school, c hurch, extra-curriculars, etc.), Mrs. Lisbon cannot suffocate the girls desires entirely. They surface anyway, reve aling Mrs. Lisbons efforts to be in vain.


42 However, Eugenides shows that these mild acts of resistance were insufficient and suggests that the Lisbon girls coul d never truly become agents of their own sexuality within the confines of their suburb. Therese communicated her frustration with the constraints of her suburban life, telling her date at the Homecoming dance: we just want to live. If anyone would let us (132). Suicide offe red the only escape from isolati on for the Lisbon girls. They invite the boys to witness the final moments of their struggle as they imagine together escaping to Florida to start new lives. However, that fantasy is overshadowed by the girls plans for suicide. While they are able to imagine a place where they can exis t outside the confines of their suburb, they can never get there and are le ft only with the opti on of suicide. The repression of female sexualityand the resulting suicides necessitates other forms of labor Because the suicides of the Lisbon girl s signals an escape from th e repressive forces of suburbia, even more labor is required to sustain the image of the suburb. De spite the fact that the Lisbon girls challenge the subur ban status quo, the neighborhood re sponds collectively in order to ensure the image of their subu rb remains outwardly stable. Thei r labor exists on a larger scale than that of Mrs. Lisbon; while policing fema le sexuality forms the core of suburban labor, covering up any deviance requires a group effort. Keeping up Appearances: Restoration of the Home and the Suburb Mrs. Lisbon's failure to repress sexuality successfully (which is first unmasked by Cecilia's suicide) speaks to a larger ineptitude of the suburb to sustain a haven for white women. As Chapter One indicated, exterior maintenance of the suburban home reflects upon the stability of those who inhabit it. In other words, a deteriorating home evidences a crumbling moral standard within itan indication that the subur b as a whole, has faile d to live up to its own image. Thus, the neighborhood in The Virgin Suicides steps in and performs the necessary labor that the Lisbons do not. In this way, Eugeni des emphasizes the amount of willful labor the


43 suburbanites exert in constructing and mainta ining their id eological suburb by foregrounding their obsessive impulse to restore the deteriorating Lisbon home. Following Cecilias initial suicide attemp t and continuing until Mr. and Mrs. Lisbon move out, the Lisbons neglect to perform the prope r upkeep of their home. In an effort to erase the evidence of the deviant behavior that has plagued their subur b, the Lisbons' neighbors combine efforts to maintain the exterior of thei r home. Some neighbors, the boys report, are not concerned by Cecilias suicide but focus their a ttention instead on the potential threat the fence on which she jumped to her death posed for others A team of men, in a self-serving neighborly favor, attempt to remove the fence free of char ge. (53). They cannot do it themselves and solicit the help of a tow truck, assuming the Lisbons would be grateful. Mr. Lisbon acknowledges the labor with a salute and the neighbors return to their own lives, their obligation fulfilled. Mr. Bates did some edging [and] Mrs. Hessens humped back dove and surfaced amid her swelling rosebushes as she sprayed (56) A sense of normalcy returns momentarily to the suburb. Since everythingaside from an unsightly trench where the fence used to be appears to be in its place once again, suburbanites can return to their imaginary peaceful space. Tidy outward appearance reflects a stable intern al structure and so the Lisbons' neighbors insist upon a return to normalcy by removing the reminder of Cecilias suicide. The suburb unites at other points to clean up the Lisbon home. Following Cecilias death, the house receded behind its mists of youth being choked off, and even our [the narrators'] own parents began to mention how dim and unhealthy the place looked (145). Mr. Lisbon fails to manicure his lawn as well. (85) Parents complain to the headmaster of the school about the worsening condition of the Li sbon house, combining to form a chorus of disapproval (162). They believe that Mr. Lisbon 's lack of attention to his home indicates a


44 related inability to run his ow n family (162). In other words, an unkempt suburban home represents an unkempt suburban life. In their co ntinued efforts to mask any signs of symbolic filth in their midst, the nei ghbors try to clean up the Lisbons literal filth, hoping that helping them to maintain a front of stability woul d reaffirm for them the imaginary suburb. The neighborhood's response to the army of fish flies that descend upon their homes and die reveals their obsessive impulse to resist filth in their midst. The narrators wonder what got into us that year or what we hated so intensely the crust of de ad bugs over our lives (56). In another collective effort, suburbani tes scrape the veneer of insects from their homes, mailboxes and swimming pools, and tackle the Lisbon house at the end. The narra tors notice the Lisbon house is coated with more bugs than the others walls an inch thick as they sweep their house and bag up fallen tree limbs (57). The suburb ritualizes these processes of restoration, as exemplified by the narrators' account of the neighborhood's annual weekend of l eaf raking. The language Eugenides employs to describe the event conjures images of ca maraderie and triumph. Th e neighbors perform the raking in military ranks, each ac cumulating leaf piles according to their own unique style (91). Raking delivers pleasure [they] felt all the way to [their] bowels. Sometimes the pleasure was so keen [they] raked up the grass itself, leavi ng patches of dirt (91). Having mastered the decaying remnants of nature on their front lawns, the neighbors conclude their ritual by stepping back and admiring their labor (91). This sort of ritualized re storation resonates with sociohistorical accounts of suburban homes and lawn s attest to the neighborly duty of properly maintaining the exterior of one's home in order to project an image of stability and cleanliness. Mr. Lisbon, a usually lone but faithful participan t in the suburban ritu al, failed to rake his yard in the fall following Cecilia's suicide. This time the neighbors do not feel compelled to


45 compensate for Mr. Lisbon's transgression and leave the leaves to pile up and get soggy, making the Lisbon lawn look like a field of mud (93). His inability to perform the proper labor that maintains a united suburban front further reflect s his ineptitude to head his household. The leaves symbolize the tarnishing effect that the deterioration of the Lisbon home has on the suburb in general; they creep into other, well-kept yards, agita ting the neighbors who upheld their duties. The image of suburbia suffers from the single bl emish of the Lisbon house, which explains the neighbors' first impulse to assist the Lisbons in removing the fence and the fish flies and then their irritation when Mr. Lisbon can not fulfill his oblig ations on his own. The Lisbons fail to contain the sexuality of their daughters within the private space of their home, the first signal of deviance in suburbia. As a result, they cannot maintain the outward appearance of stability, unable to perform the necessary duti es required for acceptance in suburbia. While neighborhood attempts to cove r for the Lisbons' transgression from suburban norms, they eventually conclude that the Lisbons are not capable of keeping up appearances and consequently do not warrant suburban membership. This sense that those who are not worthy of enjoying the privileges suburbia has to offer, and thus do not belong there, suggests that an alternative space where they do be long exists: the city. The Lisbons' inability to enact the suburban fiction disqualifies them from claiming residence there, as if to suggest that anything that does not neatly fit into th e image of the suburb should bea nd almost always iscontained outside the suburban boundaries. Eugenides articulates the American perception of city and suburb as existing in binary opposition; the ne ighborhood's willingness to assist the Lisbons only to a certain point reifies their beli ef that the distinction between these spaces is impermeable. Thus, it allows them to overlook the evidence of the city in their midst that the narrators signal to


46 throughout the text. The next se ction foregrounds this labor of purposeful misrecognition, as it constitutes the most encompassing layer of labor suburbia performs. Misrecognition of City Filth in Suburbia Eugenides exemplifies the ways suburbani tes misrecognize the pres ence of Detroit in their midst through the narrators' reconstruc tion of their childhood s uburb from an adult perspective. Their retrospectiv e approach to the suburb allows Eugenides to distinguish between the narrators' understanding of its re lationship to Detroit and that of their parents. This temporal distance serves as a narrative strategy to establ ish an ideological distance between the narrators and their childhood suburb. Eugenides can then a llow them to comment somewhat critically on a space that so intimately informed their adoles cent understanding of the world. Out of the narrators' retelling of their yout h through simultaneous lenses of distance and proximity emerges the most subtle, but also the most precarious fo rm of labor performed in novel: misrecognition of city presence in suburbia. The narrators themselves neve r visit the city as boys, onl y observing it from the rooftop, hearing sounds [they] usually c ouldnt hear sounds of the impoverished city [they] never visited, all mixed and muted, without sense, ca rried on a wind from that place (345). For them, the city was a place only partially reflect ed in the setting sun light through the haze and smog emitted from the factories. The occasional shouts (34), gunshots (36) or passing freighters (208) comprised a murmuring soundtrack of city life that the boys kne w nothing about and their parents chose to actively overlook. As a result of the vast ideological dist ance from Detroit, suburbanites could ignore aspects of city life that did not directly affect their daily life. For example, not until Cecilias death did the town reco gnize the strike of cemetery workers occurring in Detroit. The boys explain their ignorance: we didnt think it affected us (36). However, the narrators recognize


47 that the city looms much closer to the suburb than the suburb is willing to acknowledge. From their roof view, the boys could s ee the abrupt demarcation wher e the trees ende d and the city began (34), suggesting the insulation from the crime, poverty and other filth of the city is actually an imaginary buffer. Suburbanites insisted, however, that the city is distinct and distant from their neighborhood, defining themselves against the filth it represented. For ex ample, the narrators mention that the Mrs. Woodhouse, the headmasters wife, commutes to Detroit to volunteer with inner city children in the Head Start program. While an inconsequential detail to the overall narrative, the relationship between Mrs. Woodhouse and Detroit reveals two suburban assumptions: first, life in suburbia is in order and the children ther e have no need for a Head Start program; and second, city children have something to gain from the influence a white middleclass suburban woman can exert over them in her spare time. Eugenides offers this detail to provide insight into the ways Mrs. Woodhouse (a nd her neighbors) constructs an ideological divide between herself and the co rruption of the city. They actively work toward maintaining the ideological boundary of their subur b in order reaffirm their position of privilege over the less fortunate city dwellers. Implicit in this metana rrative is the demonstration of moral superiority of Mrs. Woodhouse over racial and class others that inhabit crime-ridden, unregulated city spaces. Her relationship to the city reinforces the necessity for insulating white, middle-class, heterosexual women (and their children) from the city environment than engenders troubled, atrisk youth. The fact that she moves freely be tween suburb and city does not diminish the effectiveness of the suburb as a refuge for female sexuality. Rather, her role as mentor to city children intensifies the moral distinction between family life in the cityclearly in turmoiland stable healthy familial relations that the suburb makes possible.


48 Another instance of choosing to look away from the evidence of the city in the suburbs that contributes to active perpetuation of the subur ban ideology occurs in the incidental treatment of racial others. As Lisbon girls and their Homecoming dates cruise through their suburb, enjoying their sole brief moment of social freedom, they pass a black maid on every corner, waiting for the bus. No one in the car notices them They fade into the suburban landscape as if they dont exist. However, the narrators' retros pective recognition of the presence of black maids serve as a reminder both that the city is only a workers commute away from the suburb and that city residents can and do perm eate the suburbs tree-lined border on a daily basis The children in the car overlook this reality, thus fortif ying the illusion of the impenetrable suburb. The narrator's cognizance of the existence of the black maids signals a development in consciousness from childhood to adulthood. The young people in the car replicate the impulse of their parents, that is, to ignore the maids altogether. The narrat ors, speaking from the position of a generation later, do see the black maids, which is markedly different from their parents perception. However, their retell ing of this scene does not acknow ledge the implications of the intimate inter-racial, cross-class relationships ma de possible by the presence of black maids in a white middle-class suburb. The narrators may see the maids, but they do not recognize them as breaches in the suburban image or evidence of the functioning reciprocal relationship between city and suburb. The distinction between the unquestioned performance of misrecognition on the part of the narrators' parents and the conscious but comp licit attitude the narrators embrace is heightened by the discussion about their lack of experience in the city. Th e narrators characterize their relationship to a Detroit theyd never been to by stating: Occasionally we heard gunshots coming from the ghetto but our fathers insisted in was only cars backfiring (36). The narrators,


49 looking back on the situation through the lens of adulthood, are cogni zant of the disparity between the real presence of gunshots and their fath ers repackaging of the story to fit within the fictive suburb they perceived. However, they on ly understand the implications of this to the degree that they know the sounds were gunshots, not exploding engines. They do not see their fathers deceptions as attempts to convince them selves of the protection and safety their suburb offered. The narrators accept a certa in level of dishonesty as ineff ectual. Violence and crime are associated with the city and thus out side the concern of suburbanites. Eugenides comments on the irony of the illuso ry divide between city and suburb with the discussion of the cemetery strike. Prior to Ce cilia's death, no one had ever died in the boys suburb and consequently, they lacked any knowledge about or experience with cemeteries. Thus, there was no reason to know that city cemetery workers were on strike until Cecilia commits suicide and the Lisbon family realizes their suburb' s cemetery is full. The narrators excuse their neighborhoods ignorance of the strike, stating they didnt think it affected [them] (36). While most neighbors attend the funeral held in the city, parents leav e the boys at home to protect [them] from the contamination of tragedy (38). This paper later addresses the question of the suburb's effort to disavow tragedy, but in this in stance, parents intend to protect their sons from another type of contamination: the city. By preventing the boys from entering the city parents can protect the boys from the ills of Detroit and perpetuate the illusion of the suburb's detachment from it. Ironically, the cemetery stri ke serves as another announcement of Detroit's presence in suburban space in that it effects real consequences for Cecilia's funeral. Attendees are further confronted by the city at the funeral service when t he hearse had trouble getting through the gate because of the picketing of cemetery workers (38) However, the incident is


50 dismissed, buried in the back pages of the ne ighborhood newspaper and kept secret from the boys. The suburbanites misrecognition or avoidance of the city's presence in various contexts allows Eugenides to elucidate the extent to which a sort of false consciousness is perpetuated in suburbia. These details of suburban life are normalized, neutralized, and ultimately, unrecognizable as evidence of city filth. Even as adults who cri tique suburbia at various points in the book, the narrators are complicit with the pe rpetuation of the imaginary suburb. However, they are distinct from the suburban generation th at preceded them because they notice the black maids and understand their father's dishonesty. Thei r retelling of the narra tive that includes these details serves as a mechanism through which E ugenides can call attention to the disparity between the suburb of their parent s' and their own understanding of it. In this gap, Eugenides launches his critique of the uncritical complic ity that the suburban ideology requires. The clearest example of suburbias efforts to di stance itself from city life is in the towns response to the Lisbon girls deaths. The Catholic Church documents all the girls suicides as accidents, a term that circumvents any questions of causality (37). The local newspaper neglects to run an article on [Cecilias] suicide attempt because the editor, Mr. Baubee, felt such depressing information wouldnt fit between the fr ont-page article on the J unior League Flower Show and the back-page photographs of grinning brides (14). Even Mrs. Lisbon refused to acknowledge any calamity as neighbors drop by to express polite sympathy (17). Neighbors also delay sending flowers follo wing Cecilias second, successful suicide attempt while they decided whether to let the catastrophe pass in silence or to act as though the death were natural (42). Confronting the reality of suicide is not an option for them. Instead, they struggle


51 to repackage it as an accident, an aberration that does not disrupt the subu rban status quo and can fade quietly into suburban memory. The suburb encourages the Lisbon girls to al so conceal any outward signs of disruption caused by Cecilia's death and to continue their da ily lives as if unaffect ed. Their school does sponsor a Day of Grieving so as to dedicate appr opriate time for the Lisb on girls and their peers to process their loss. However rather than invoking the memory of Cecilia, the day aims to address grief in general so that tragedy was diffused and univers alized (104). These strategies allow suburbanites to politely dodge the questions about why C ecilia chose suicide and avoid any indictment of the suburban way of life. Th e suburb collectively repackages Ceclia's suicide as an accident and then quickly dismisses it wit hout further interrogation. Thus, she fades into memory not as a rupture in the homeostatic suburb an fiction, but as an un fortunate incident of little consequence. Conclusion The boys recount the story of the Lisbon girls decades after their deat hs. As adults, the narrators continue to piece toge ther the meanings and implicati ons of the suicides, cataloging pictures and interviews into an archive of exhi bits. They spend their lives obsessed with the girls, fantasizing about them even in the comp any of their wives. They are each haunted by shadows of the Libsons, exerting an enormous effort on what might have been the fingerprinting of phantoms that ex ist only in their imaginary (187). The narrators laborious endeavor of uncove ring and sustaining the memory of the Lisbon girls mirrors the willful efforts of the suburbanites to maintain and perpetuate the illusion of a stable and pristine suburb. Eugenides foregrounds the sexuality of the Lisbon girls as the lens through which the suburban myth is revealed to be cracked and permeable. The boys desperate attempts to cling to a memory of beautiful, virgin al, desirous girls is a way for Eugenides to call


52 attention to the lengths to which people will go to convince themselves their illusion is reality. The narrators recognized the Lis bon girls as human beings at one fleeting moment in the text, while they are on the Homecoming dates with Trip and his friends. Kevin Head is shocked to notice [the Lisbon girls] weren t all that different from [his] sister (123). However, the narrators dismiss this revelation and continue to se arch for a Rosetta stone to provide insight into their mysterious lives (170). At the end of the novel, the narrators reveal that their childhood suburb had recently been razed to put up a subdivision (245). In other words, the very suburb Eugenides has shown to be an illusion, a figment of its residents imaginations, is dest royed and replaced with a fresh version, a new set of homogenous housing, tiny saplings, and most importantly, no memory of the Lisbon girls. While the narrators struggle to sharpen their percep tion of their suburban landscape, looking to the Lisbon girls for inspiration and expl anation, they too are caught up within the suburban imaginary. However, thei r primary function is to foreground the intense labor required to maintain an illusion, to convince one self that the illusion is reality, and then to conduct daily life accordingly. The desperate im pulse of the boys to invest so much of themselves into memorializing the Lisbon girls ma rks a subtle, yet importa nt distinction between their view of the suburb and that of their parents. The subdi vision that replaces the Lisbons' suburb is outwardly the same, a re plication of white, middle-class, heteronormativity. However, as the narrators show throughout the novel, this subdivision is characterized by a consciousness of the fictive suburb, and while its residents (the narrators included) are complicit in its replication, they are indeed awar e of its illusory qualities. Eugenides focuses on the girls sexuality specifically, because as suburban discourse points out, female sexuality is supposed to be cont ained and the suburb has historically been the


53 place where it is kept safe and secure. The Lisbon gi rls acts of resistance that culminate in their suicide reveals the failure of the suburb to comp letely repress female sexuality. However, the reiteration of suburbia in th e form of a new subdivision, signals to the insistence upon perpetuating the myth that in fact, suburbia can ex ist in a vacuum, away from city deviance. By razing one suburb only to build a subdivision, the memory of the Lisbon girls is erased and the evidence of the cracks between th e city and the suburb can bealm ostcompletely discarded. The narrators point of view, characteri zed by their simultaneous distance from and proximity to their childhood subur b, allows them to pr esent a negative portra it of the American suburb. They stand both as observers and critics of the cultural forces of their suburb that resulted in the death of the Lisbon girls. But they are also characters of the novel that function to leverage Eugenides' critique of the suburbs as well. Eugenides positions the narrators between himself and the unnamed suburb in which presumab ly he grew up in order to rupture his own proximity to the suburb. He removes himself from the narrative, criticizin g it from the outside. As a result, The Virgin Suicides concludes with disdain for the American suburb of the 1970s, but also suggests that it has underg one a slight transformation in th e lifetime of the narrators (and of Eugenides). In other words, the novel's reso lution allows the reader to imagine an outside of suburban normsone in which the narrators a nd Eugenides both report from. While this outside is only subtly different from its prede cessor, it is indeed an improved and self-conscious version of its former suburban self. The distance Eugenides establishes fro m the suburb about which he writes in The Virgin Suicides sets up a template for further critique in Middlesex, his second novel that also takes place in suburban Detroit. Middlesex intensifies the connection be tween the suburb and the city as it historicizes the cultural moment of 1970s De troit and its suburb, Gro sse Pointe, the setting


54 for the climax of the novel. By tracing the process by which the anta gonists attain suburban membership over the course of the twentieth cen tury, Eugenides complicates the labor required in The Virgin Suicides to maintain the suburban ideal, but also the labor that is needed to become suburban in the first place.


55 CHAPTER 4 INCEST AND INTERSEX: BECOMING SUBURBAN IN MIDDLESE X In The Virgin Suicides Eugenides critiques American subur bia through the retelling of the suicides of five middle-class white girls. Th e novel renders their suffocated sexualities the unfortunatebut necessaryby-product of the repressive suburban en vironment. Set outside of Detroit in the early 1970s, The Virgin Suicides introduces the Lisbon family as otherwise normative members of their neighborhood: Mr. and Mrs. Lisbon are married, their daughters are heterosexual, Mr. Lisbon is employed and supports his wife and children, and the family attends church regularly. Neither Eugeni des nor the narrators raise questi ons about the family's right to be suburban; it is assumed. As a result, the nove l's central concern lies with the process of perpetuation of the ideology of subur bia rather than its origin. In Middlesex however, Eugenides expands the tempor al reach of the novel to include the process of becoming a white, middle-class, Ameri can member of suburbia. Further cementing his position as a suburban author, he presents a historical trajectory of the development of suburban Detroit alongside the st ory of three generations of the Stephanides family. The suburban destination for the family of immigrants culminates in the 1970s in Grosse Pointe, the suburb of Detroit where Eugenides grew up. Some scholars contend that the The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex can be usefully understood as a single textual entity because of their shared location and temporality (Womack and Ma llory-Kani 157). However, considering these texts as distinct effects a more productive anal ysis of the ways in which each illustrates the American suburb and leverages a critique through different instances of deviance. First, Eugenides addresses intersec tions of race and class in Middlesex that he allowed to remain invisible in the Lisbons' wh ite, middle-class status in The Virgin Suicides Next, the retelling of a past through Cal, the narr ator and protagonist of Middlesex, functions as not only as a memorial


56 but also as an explanation of his foundation in and rejection of his childhood suburb. Finally, Eugenides' treatment of incest, que er desire and intersexuality th at intersect with marginalized racial and class backgrounds offers a more mu lti-valanced critique of suburbia than the Lisbon girls' deviant heterosexual desi re could provide. While it is indeed useful to examine these novels alongside one another, to conflate them be cause the narratives conv erge within a distinct spatiotemporal moment is to overlook each novel's particular critique (157). Sexual deviance in Middlesex appears in the American subur b in the form of incest and queer adolescent desire. Cal's grandparents and parents enter in to incestuous marriages, a fact that is hidden behind outwardly normal heterosexual unions that yield seemingly average offspring. Queer desire is poten tially present in the metanarrativ e of Cal's adult romance with Julia, however it is more obviously present in Callie's lesbian1 relationship with Obscure Object as a child. The link between these instances of deviant sexuality occurs not in terms of desire, but in Cal's gender, specifically his intersexed gender identity. The chronology of Cal's family history begi ns with the emigration of his grandparents from Asia Minor in 1922 and culminates in the stor y of his present-day life in Berlin. Cal recalls the events that occur between th ese points in time. Through retell ing of both his family's history and his own, he assumes different narrative voic es. At times, he serves as the omniscient narrator that can provide reliable historical context. In other mo ments, he considers his story to be a personal memoir, allowing the reader to engage with and invest in the characters' 1 While Cal presents the gender identity of a man as an adult, it is not until he fully reveals his physical predicament, that is, his non-normative genitalia, to Julia, his romantic interest, that he is able to engage with her sexually (107, 514). The recognition of his intersex identity as it presents itself vis-a-vis his genitals has prevented him from becoming sexually intimate with women for most of adulthood. While Susan Frelich Appleton contends that Cal inherits the privilege of heterosexual men by assuming a male gender identity, I argue that his experience lacks two key characteristics of such privilege: childhood socialization as a boy and normative male genitalia (Gender, Law, and Narrative 436). Al so, because for the duration of Callie's relationship to Obscure Object, she believed herself to be a girl who was sexually attracted to another girl, I choose to describe their interactions as lesbian.


57 relationships to the suburb ( Middlesex 19). This narrative strategy allows the novel to take on larger questions about suburbia because it forges a relationship between Cal and the reader and allows Eugenides to assume the pos ition of distant social critic. The division of narrative frames effects an image of suburbanites distant enough to allow readers to see the ways in which people buy into the suburban image. Through omniscient na rration, the reader is privy to the anxieties and struggles of the various char acters who labor to become American. Still, it is intimate enough to evoke a sympathetic reading of the Stephanides' family's struggle. Also, because the reader experiences the novel from Cal's point of view the novel encourages support for him along his journey. Cals purpose of beginning with a retelli ng of his grandparents emigration and his parents lives growing up in the U.S. is to locat e the origin of the recessive mutation on his fifth chromosome (that is the cause of his intersexuality ) and archive the rollerc oaster ride of a single gene through time (4). Moving between two voi ces and across time, Eugenides constructs a mythical narrator that is able to recall details w ith impossible, but believable authority. Just as the narrators of The Virgin Suicides provide the vehicle for Eugeni des critique of the suburb, Cal is the intermediary between the author and the reader. Whether Cal is immediately present or subtly narrating events separate from his own e xperience, the reader pe rceives the novel through his perspective. This strategy invites the reader to relate to and sympathize with Cal's condition. Francisco Callado-Rodriguez argues: Cal's role as narrator becomes specifically on e of convincing readers that there is nothing wrong with her/his apparently freaky condi tion . Her/his condition forces the protagonist to carry out a particular quest for sex and gender definition, for a human self that Cal sometimes understands to be a mere social invention. (81) Callado-Rodriguez's interpretation of Cal's constr uction of his memoir results in a celebratory reading of the novel. He applauds Eugenides' depiction of Cal as a textual location where


58 multiple categorical opposites collide: woman/man, foreigner/native, and character/narrator. This results in Callado-Rodriguez's conclusion that Middlesex works to denounc[e] categorical thinking (75). This reading suggests that Cal' s position at the meeting pl ace of many identities opens an imaginative space where nature and nurt ure exist harmoniously rather than as binary opposites (83). Callado-Rodrigue z suggests that it is categorica l thinking that prevents Cal from achieving full Americanness. Thus, Middlesex reflects a positive suburban space that encourages and incorporates difference as fundament al to its existence. From this perspective, Eugenides' Gross Pointe transce nds categorical thinking and incubates identities that straddle the binary opposition of gender. However, this type of celebratory read ing fails to acknowledg e that Cal narrates Middlesex from Berlin, a city historically perceived to be accepting of sexual and gender deviance. He does not remain in Gross Pointe; he leaves the United States altogether, pursuing a career with the Foreign Service so as to never be forced to rema in in any single place for more than a few years. Cal's stay in Berlin will be temporary as well (Eugenides 106). Stricken with shame about his non-normative gender identity (106) Cal refers to his adult male life as a wandering in the maze these many years, shut away from sight. And from love, too (107). In this way, the suburb has failed to deliver a frac tion of the American Drea m to Cal, rendering him a lonely expatriate whose only remnant of his suburban upbringing is the shame he carries about his non-normative gender. More importantly, a celebratory reading su ch as Callado-Rodriguez's does not account for the two-thirds of the novel Eugenides dedicate s to detailing the considerable effort the Stephanides family exerted in order to obtain wh ite, middle-class status and gain membership into suburbia before Cal's interse xuality interrupted his girlhood.


59 Race and class are the two major axes of di fference faced by the Stephanides family as they enter the United States and begin to build a life there. Foregrounding the labor performed in order to bury their ethnicity and working-class background and prepare for an American future reveals the ways in which the Stephanides family actively participates in constructing the suburban ideal. Their purpose is to ensure that this ideal includes themselves, which necessitates that they forget about their in cestuous history and reinvent themselves as worthy of suburban membership. A chronological analysis of the ways in which they confront barriers between themselves and the Americanness they seek to achieve will illuminate the interconnections between race, class, sexuality and gender. An overview of the Stephanides family's venture into suburbia and Cal's rejection of it demonstrates that indeed, Eugeni des finds in Cal a triumphant co mpromise. The first-two thirds of the novel illustrate this journey of Desdem ona and Lefty, and then of Tessie and Milton (including other family members on the way) in order to articulate the process of overcoming difference and becoming legitimate members of middle-class Americaand thus, the suburb. The final third, then, shows the narrators journey from Callie to Cal in order to call attention to the types of identities and differ ences the American suburb refuses to subsume and must reject in order to maintain a proper heterosexual family order within its borders. In other words, Cals intersexed and queer identities bar him from suburban membership in ways that his familys ethnic and class background did not Cals rejection of the opport unity to be operated back into normality is more broadly a dismissal of th e conformity suburbia requ ires in terms of gender and sexuality. The denouement of the novel signals to a hopeful future for Cal and Julie. Yet the suburb and its residents remain unchanged, doomed to reproduce the normative forces that inspired Cal's original exodus as an adolescent. The concluding message in Middlesex is similar


60 to that in The Virgin Suicides : while the consciousness of its residents may have progressed beyond that of their suburban environment (in this case, evidenced by Cal's sexual encounter with Julie), the suburb inevitably reproduces itse lf and the gender and sexual norms contained therein. Cal's compromise, while a victory for himself, does not advance the discourse of the American suburb beyond a mere recognition of de viance and a willingness to curb that deviance back into heteronormative articulations. In order to embody an intersexed identityas opposed to a heterosexual male suburban oneCal must flee not only suburbia, but the United States altogether. Transcending Difference: Race and Class in Suburbia Just as in The Virgin Suicides Eugenides begins Middlesex by revealing the climax. In the very first sentence, Cal discloses, I was bor n twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974 (3). However, the story that precedes Cals birth and rebirth involves the incestuous unions of his grandparents, Lefty and Desdemona and his parents, Tessie and Milton. In order to explain how Cal negotiates his identity as an expatriate living in Berlin, Eugenides first details Greek i mmigrants' journeys from Smyrna to Detroit and the ways in which their children became middle-class Americans. As suburban scholarship notes, white, middl e-class families stand as the ideal suburban residents, yet studies challenge that ideal by insisting that me mbers of marginalized racial identities and working-class people have achieved and continue to aspire to life in suburbia. Eugenides situates his fictive s uburb within this dialectic, sh owing through the suburbanization of the Stephanides family that the social struct ures of twentieth-century America benefit those who most closely approximate the white, middle-cla ss, family ideal. Sara Ahmed's metaphor of peas in a pod explicates th e process by which working-clas s Greeks become middle-class


61 Americans. Ahmed's argument, as demonstrated in the second chapter of this paper, centers on the retrospective homogenization th at occurs within communities such as the suburb. Close proximity generates a perception of likeness, sh e argues, and the Stephanides family benefits from this in their endeavor to define themselves as white, middle-class, and suburban. They distinguish themselves from Blackness and worki ng-class status and achieve a suburban identity in opposition to Detroit and its deviance. Desd emona and Lefty work actively to reformulate their identities in order to eras e their ethnic and class differen ces and become subsumed under a sort of retrospective hom ogenization that will enhance the social standing of their children. Cal begins tracing this pro cess in 1922, when his grandparents, Desdemona and Lefty take their first steps toward Americanness in thei r flight from Smyrna to the United States. Deserted by the Greek fleet, Lefty convinces a Fr ench official that he and Desdemona (who he claims is his wife) were born in Paris in order to gain access to a French merchant vessel to emigrate to the United States. Accompanie d by their new friend, a bloody and desperate Dr. Philobosian, who Lefty claims is his cousin, three new French citizens set sail, leaving a burning city behind them. In order to earn a pa ssage to the United States, they must whiten themselves slightly, claiming a French identity so that they may escape Smyrna. This passage foreshadows how the flexibility of their racial id entity will benefit them as they assimilate into American culture. Their willingness to be perc eived as French in order to gain access to a privilege unavailable to Greeks in Turkey lays the foundation for the ways the Stephanides family will reinvent themselves in the United States. Once in America, Lefty struggles to overcome class barriers and atta in his portion of the American dream through various avenues. First, he gains employment in a Ford factory in Detroit in 1922. Lefty becomes part of the machine of the assembly line along with many other


62 non-English speaking immigrants (95). Desdemon a also embraces the assembly line mentality in the home, completing domestic duties perfuncto rily (98). The impact of the Ford English School where Lefty attended mandatory classes reach es into the Stephanides home directly. The various courses educate students in the English language but also provide lifestyle guidelines for the Americans-in-training. They serve to impart American culture onto immigrant workers and specifically center on cleanliness as the most important achievement. For example, Lefty recites in unison with his coworkers phrases like employ ees should use plenty of soap and water in the home and the most advanced people are the cl eanest (97). In anot her instance, two Ford officials visit the Stephanides home to police th e cleanliness of their employee and ensure he was conducting his life properly. They suggest that Lefty obtain a mortgage and inquire about his grooming habits. They provi de a new toothbrush and instruct him how to use it (100). Each of these are transparent efforts by Ford to assimilate their immigrant workers to an American way of life by cleaning up their filth. The purifica tion process culminates in a pageant in which symbols of various nations (i ncluding Greece) are inte grated into the Ford English School Melting Pot (104). As Henry Fo rd looks on approvingly, the immigrant workers are made one step closer to becoming Americans as their ethnic difference is dissolved into a cauldron that unites each of its components in whiteness (104). Following termination from the factory, Le fty seeks out economic success through illegal endeavors. He feels pressured to provide for his expecting wife and begins smuggling alcohol and opens a clandestine basement bar that he name d The Zebra Room (132). He also participates in auto-erotica, supplying female models for a photographer for extra inco me (158). The wealth he gains from these activities allowed him to purchase a building in Detroit and create an above ground Zebra Room [that] was a bar and grill (168).


63 While Lefty struggles to achieve a middleclass status for himself and his family, Desdemona experiences the binary conceptions of race in Detroit that left her ironically on the Black side. She gains employment at a Muslim Temple, making silk, in which she has to darken her ethnic background in order to be hired. Th e others at the temple are Black, and espouse hatred toward whites (153). Desdemona real izes that part of her becoming a Detroiter necessitates that she [see] everything in terms of black and white. Desdemonas experience at the temple highlights the race relations in Detroit as distinctly black versus white, with no middle ground. Desdemonas ability to be perceived as Black foreshadows the privileged position the Stephanides family will be granted later by this insistence on a binary. Despite Desdemona's ability to pass as Black in this context, she is later interpolated as white, thus transcending her ethnic difference in opposition to African Americans of Detroit. Eugenides traces the changing racial climate of Detroit throughout the 1950s and into the 1960s through the experiences of Milton (Lefty and Desdemona's son) and his wife (and second cousin) Tessie. Milton tries to grasp his portion of the American Dream by using a loan made possible by the G.I. Bill to transform The Zebra Ro om into Hercules Hot Dogs (201). Eventually becoming a chain of restaurants, Hercules Hot Dogs symbolizes the merging of Greek and American identities that is fueled by Ameri can capitalism. Milton commodifies his Greek heritagehis 'difference' and repackages it in a prototypical form of American consumption: fast food (201). Cal narrates a Technicolor image of booming business in motion, with a hint of critical humor, with a close-up of the cash register ringing open and closed, of Miltons hands counting money (204). Milton also purchases a home, its spacious living room a reflection of his material success (204). E quipped with his own business and a new home, Milton extends his grasp of the American dream extends past that of his parents which moves him closer to


64 permanent membership in the white middle class. As a testament to his parents' increasing immersion into American culture, Cal notes that the television remains turned on and Milton only serves drinks with 'names of people,' such as Tom Collins (223). Despite this new privileged lifestyle, involvi ng entrepreneurship, ho meownership and leisure, the encroaching black population of Detroit tarn ishes the value of their busin ess and their home. Despite overwhelming financial success, Milton experiences 'white flight' in terms of economic loss. The race riots in Detroit in 1967 mark a turning point for the Stephanides family, transforming them almost immediately into member s of the white, middle class. First, the riots solidify a white identity for Milton and his family, a racial category his parents worked to attain a generation earlier. Historically, Detroit has been a central location in which the racial binary between blackness and whiteness was exaggerated. Desdemona's realization that residents are either black or white and that no third racial identity exists is consistent with the socio-historical context of Detroit at the time. To be white mean t simply, to be not black. Thus, ethnic difference dissolves and whiteness becomes a homogenizing racial category that in cludes the Stephanides family. As Valerie Babb points out, whitene ss and Americanness are synonymous (118). Thus, the race riots of Detroit benefit the social status of the Stepha nides family because it defines them as white it also made them more American. The riots not only benefit the racial identity of Milton and his family, but also effect financial gain. Cal comments: Shameful as it is to say, the riots were the best thing that ever ha ppened to us. Overnight we went from being a family desperately trying to stay in the middle class to one with hopes of speaking into the upper, or at least the upper middle. (252) Milton receives a significant porti on of insurance money following th e demise of his diner in the city fires that allow him to purchase two sym bols of upward mobility: a Cadillac (252) and a


65 home in the suburbs (254). Now securely me mbers of white America, the Stephanides make permanent their place in the middle class by moving to suburbia. He overcomes the racist bias of the real estate agent who attempts to stee r him toward a more appropriate neighborhood for his ethnic background. Milton's ability to pay cash for a home earns him the right to move to Grosse Pointe, a white middle-clas s suburb. In other words, his class status (as expressed in terms of his liquid assets) gran ts him the privilege to transcend his ethnic identity. The Stephanides family then, becomes full-fledged me mbers of white, middle-class American suburb. They have achieved the American Dream and now own a portion of suburbia to prove it. Through the narrative of the Stephanides family's journey to the United States and subsequent acquisition of an American iden tity through whiteness and middle-class status, Eugenides foregrounds the amount of effort each re quires. Neither comes to any member of the family automatically, but each must perform the id entities correctly in or der to be eventually permitted as legitimate white Americans in suburbia. Cal later remembers being referred to as the ethnic girl in her all white prep school, indi cating that her family's membership in suburbia is never guaranteed. It is also applied retrospectively and varies in different locations, as Callie's prep school experience indicates Instead, it is contingent upon the proper intersection of heterosexuality, middle-class status and whitenessa meeting place that Cal's intersexed identity reveals to be predicated on incestuous sexual deviance. Linking Whiteness and Heterosexuality Whiteness studies scholar Mason Stokes conten ds that while central, whiteness is not the only defining characteristic re quired for attaining Americanness. He claims that whiteness works bestin fact, that it works onlywhen it at taches itself to other ab stractions. (13). For his work, the key abstracti on is heterosexuality; he ar gues that both whiteness and heterosexuality work together to form an enorm ous, yet nearly invisible, normative disciplinary


66 presence (13). The incestuous marriages in Middlesex testify to Stokes' argument. For both Desdemona and Lefty and Tessie and Milt on, incest is obscured by whiteness and heterosexuality. In other words, the sexual devi ance that predicates these unions is buried beneath presentations of white identity and hete rosexual, reproductive marriage. These couples escape social ostracization that could potentially result from their in cestuous relationships because they approximate the normative Ameri can family by projecting proper race (white) and correct desire (heterosexual). Stokes' theoretical apparatus renders previ ous suburban scholarship on race and class incomplete without attention to sexuality. In order to fully understand the multiple dimensions of racial and class differences in the suburbs and the ways they challenge the presupposition of whiteness, we must also consider (hetero) sexuality. Stokes' intervention foregrounds the underlying assumption of heterosexuality on whic h the suburbs function. Thus, heterosexual marriage frames the image of the suburb in c oncert with whiteness and middle-class status, making sexuality an integral component of refashioning oneself as American. In Middlesex, the protagonists grapple with various experiences of deviant desire that they attempt to silence under a guise of hetero sexuality. Incest, the most prominent and taboo form of deviant desire in the novel, begins be fore Desdemona and Lefty arrive in the United States. In Smyrna, the brother and sister struggle with their desire for one another. Stricken with guilt, Lefty seeks alternative outlets, visiting prostitutes who resemble Desdemona (32). He prays to God asking for reprieve from his unnatural desire (31). Desdemona, oblivious to her own sexual desires, is unaware of Lefty's intentions until they depart from Smyrna to the United States.


67 The duration of the trip to the United Stat es marks a more permanent transformation of their desire for Desdemona and Lefty. In additio n to assuming false nationalities to gain entrance to America, the trip signifies a translation of a sibling relationshi p into a marital one. Lefty was aware that whatever happened now would become the truth, that whatever he seemed to be would become what he wasalread y an American, in other words (67). While on the ship, he engages in a simulated cour tship with Desdemona, enacti ng a proposal and performing a wedding ceremony (67). Cal notes that the marital charade functioned to ensure for themselves that their fictive courtship is not overshadowed by incest (68). Other travelers, as Cal indicated earlier, are too engrossed in their own pursuits of a new life to notice Desdemona and Leftys fictive courtship is predicated by the incestuous love between brothe r and sister (49). Thus, their transatlantic voyage affords them the opportunity to transform th emselves from Greek refugee siblings as they board to a reproductive married couple when they disembark. In other words, no onenot the French officials in Smyrna, th e fellow passengers aboard the ship, or the immigration administrators in New Yorkquesti oned the legitimacy of their marriage and as a result, the incest could be masked and kept secret Declared literate, married to only one person (albeit a sibling), democratically inclined, mentally stable, and authoritatively deloused Desdemona and Lefty are welcomed successfully into the United States as husband and wife, and as potential Americans (74). Ethnic differen ce, masked by a bit of deceit and marriage, is overcome just enough to allow them access to the United States. While outwardly presenting a front of hete rosexual marital normalcy, underneath the surface sexual anxiety brews for Desdemona. She worries that her sexual transgressions would result in deformed children, thereby indic ting her for failure to properly engage in heterosexuality. Desdemona resorts to sexual avoidance to remedy her fears about producing


68 abnormal offspring. Denying her husband sexual access to her body in order to control her reproductive capacities deviates from the hetero sexual norm. Heterosexual marriage within suburbia (also termed heteronormativity) facili tates procreation; re fusing to engage in heterosexual sex disrupts reproduction and is thus deviant. Desdemona's effort to mask her incestuous marriage by forbidding se xual activity with her husband exemplifies another type of labor involved in the journey towa rd heteronormativity. And, as Stokes points out, this is a central component to claiming an American identity. Deviance Revealed: Callie/Cal The birth of Calliope to Tessie and Milton do es not appear in the primary narrative strand until Book Three (of four) in Middlesex nearly halfway into the nove l (216). Cal marks the day of his birth as a baby girl as a schism between two worlds. He states: Up until now it hasn't been my world. Not my America (217). While he provides no direct explanation, the events that follow suggest that Cal r ecognizes the distance between th e his parents' experience of America and his own, in the same way that the narrators of The Virgin Suicides understood the dissonance between theirs and their parents' unders tandings of their suburb. From this point, Calliope (or Callie) is the central fi gure in the narrative as Cal details his girlhood in Detroit, his adolescence in Grosse Pointe and his eventual escape from suburbia to various urban spaces. Her labor as an adolescent girl to approximate appropriate femi ninity and his labor as both an adolescent boy and adult man to realize a satisfying gender identi ty constitute the remainder of the novel. In the first half of Middlesex, Eugenides emphasizes the labor required for the Stephanides family to achieve white, middle-clas s suburban status, a process that overlaps in the narrative with Callie's birth. However, the second half of the book centers on the willful effort to maintain this position of privilege which, most poignantly, necessitates a complete disavowal of


69 Callie's intersexed condition. In other words, B ooks One and Two depict the family's journey t oward something, namely, access to white middleclass suburbia. Cals narration of his adolescence, however, re trospectively reveals the Stephanides' journey away from something: their deviant past as it is embodied by Calli ope. Callie's body is physical evidence of the incestuous past of her parents and grandparent s; her genetic mutation announces her family's sexual deviance, exposing their secret in a way th at cannot be ignoredat le ast not for very long. However, the family succeeds in overlooking Callie's condition until she reaches adolescence. Until then, they enjoy an uninterrupted middle-cla ss American lifestyle, able to look away from their deviant historie s and pretend that they are norm al, rightful suburban residents. Until puberty, Callie, her family and their phys ician regard her as a relatively normally developed girl. Cal remembers, I was brought up as a girl and had no doubt s about this (226). Activities such as playing with dolls contri bute to an unquestioned acceptance that Callie was both sexed and gendered correctly, as a girl. Sex and sexuality are issues shrouded in a zone of privacy and fragility, unspoken about in a suburb an space that depended on this silence. Even Tessie bathed her daughter with blinders on, neve r noticing the unusual shape of Callies genitals (226). A beautiful baby, Callie grew into a beau tiful girl. Her harmonious physical attributes perpetuated the illusion that Callie was developing normally (278). As a child, Callie experiences sexual desire for other girls. While she is aware that something is improper about her relationship with neighbor girl, Clementine Stark, she would not have been able to articulate it (265). She knows enough to keep secret her feelings for other girls, but didnt connect this feeling to sex (265). And since sex was something I shouldnt tell my mother about, Callie continues to grow up without any language to describe her desires or guidance about how to understand them (265) This queer desire, understood by Callie as


70 between herself as a girl and ot her girls, does not prompt her to question her gender identity; for her, these are distinct. It is not until later, in conversation with Dr. Luce, would she be forced to think of her gender and sexuality as related components of her intersexed condition. Due to Dr. Phils decrepitude and Tessies prudishness, [Callie] arrives at puberty not knowing much about what to expect (283). Bu t by age twelve, Callie begins to notice the disparity between her bodys maturation and that of her peers. Her classmates rapidly transform into women and she considers the possibility that she would be l eft behind in the race toward adulthood (285). Callies body does change, but instead of developing breasts and hips, she grows taller and her voice deep ens. In order to counter th e androgynous pull of her body, she grows her hair long, clinging to the only femini ne characteristic she could control. Her problematic body asserts itself to Callie despite he r ardent attempts to hide it behind her hair and ignore it in hopes it would somehow become normal (294). She actively cultivates long hair, laboring to mask her androgynous body behind a marker of femininity so that others can ignore the other indications of maleness. Callie dreams to someday live inside [her hair] (306). It provides a barrier between her a nd the outside world. As she gr ows up, she retreats inside her hair. Meanwhile, Callie works actively to become feminine, shaving her legs and armpits, plucking her eyebrows and applying make-up (311 ). The emergence of a few darkish hairs above [her] upper lip are attributed to her Greek heritage and remedied by a trip to the salon (310). Callie accumulates name brand markers of femininity; products such as Daisy razors, Lip Smacker and Breck Crme Rinse with Body clutte r her bathroom cabinet. Callie assuages her mothers concerns and avoids an appointment with the gynecologist by faking her period. She flushes unused tampons and feign[s] symptoms from headache to fatigue (361). Comparing


71 her acting talent to Meryl Streep, Callie pe rpetuates the illusion of her transition into womanhood, allowing those around her to easily follo w in that illusion. She acts the part of teenage girl successfully. Her desire to properly occupy her pr oscribed gender role of girl coupled with her family's presumption that sh e was indeed, a girl, l eaves no room for the question that she, perhaps, was not one. Despite her body's insist ence upon androgyny, she accumulates the proper feminine accoutrements in order to convince herself, her peers and her family that she does fulfill the gender id entity assigned to her at birth. Evidence of deviance from gender and sexual norms is ignored or remains unnoticed by Cals family until she suffers from an accident a nd is taken to the hospital and given a physical examination (396). Following physical and psychological examinations at the Sexual Disorders and Gender Identity Clinic, Dr. Luce concludes that Callies clitoris is larger than a normal girls and that a quick operation would fix everythi ng. When she discovers medical files that reported her XY chromosomes, she realizes then th at the intent of Dr. Luces surgery was not to normalize her female body but to castrate her male one. Surgery could re construct her genitals so as to make them resemble normal female ge nitalia, thus affording her a seamless transition into womanhood. In other words, Callie is incap able of masking her own deformity any longer, and surgery is neededand the only optionfor returning her body to the fiction of girlhood. The surgery represents the most obvi ous form of labor required by subur bia. In order to return to suburban normalcy, Callie must restructure the phys ical marker of her gender variance, that is, her genitals. Surgery promises to correct her genetic transgression and facilitate a smooth transition back into suburban heteronormativity asalmosta normal woman. The suburb offers only two opposing roles for its residents: woma n or man. Callie's intersexed body rejects both of t hose options. Instead, it reveals the incestuous relationships that


72 presumably caused the genetic mutation. A physical testament to the generations of forbidden desire, Callie's body must be transformed in order to conform to suburba n gender ideologies and continue to keep the family's deviance a well-kept secret. But, despite Dr. Luce's insistence upon forci ng her body to cooperate with the gender role she had occupied since birth, Calli e chooses to reject this impulse to fix her deformed body. This rejection of the surgical procedure to co rrect her condition doubles as a rejection of the social structures of suburbia that require adherence to the gender binary. Cal cuts her hair short and hitchhikes west, to the city. At this point in the narrative, a t eenage suburban girl named Callie becomes a wandering intersexed boy named Cal. Cal escapes to Berkeley and San Francisco. In the city, he feels he can reconstruct his identity because in many ways, he is anonymous. The sense of anonymity is heightened by his work at Octopussy, a peep show club that ca pitalizes on his ambiguous genitalia by displaying his body from the waist down to curious viewers. They do not see his face, however, reducing his body to a commodity and allowing him the ideol ogical space to reinvent himself as separate and distinct from his genitals. He severs ties with his family and seeks the comfort of other gender deviants in order to grow into his new self The city serves as a site of rebirth for Cal because the image of the city is not threatened by Cal's intersexuality in the same way the suburb is. Because Cal is the product of incestuous de sirea point that the novel relies on biological determination to explainhis very existence sta nds to threaten the fiction of suburban normality his family had constructed for themselves. Th e city offers anonymity and multiple avenues through which to articulate gender. It is no acc ident that Cal chooses San Francisco, a city perceived to be haven for gender and sexual deviants. Nonetheless, urban space carries less


73 rigid expectations of gendered ro les, allowing Cal to navigate his own identity outside of the traditional roles of woman or man that suburbia offers. Cal eventually returns to Grosse Pointe after his stay in San Francisco to attend his father's funeral. While Tessie originally percei ves Cal's masculine identity as criminal and a form of punishment for her own deviant sexua l desire, she grows to realize that Cal was essentially the same person as Callie (520). Cal comments, [a]fter I returned from San Francisco and started living as a male, my family found that, contrary to popular opinion, gender was not all that important (520). Middlesex Intersex and Suburbia. Cal's return to a tolerant suburban fam ily metonymically represents the potential suburban membership available to him following his gender conversion. Eugenides concludes Middlesex with a hopeful teenage Cal, standing at the front doorway of his parents' home, happy to be home, weeping for my father, and th inking about what was next (529). The reader knows what follows this scene in Cal's life as he has provided glimpses into his adult life throughout the text: he continues to present a successful male gender identity, he maintains a close relationship with Tessie, he travels with his job in the Foreign Service and, most importantly, he falls in love. Eugenides sets up th e metanarrative of Cal's relationship to Julie in order to frame the entire novel as a prologue to th eir love story. Cal narrates his romance with Julie in the interstices of the novel, rendering it an interesting, but ineffect ual narrative strand until the novel's close. Because the novel ends chronologically prior to the present day from which Cal narrates, the intermittent tale of Cal and Julie serves to va lidate the hopefulness Ca l described in the final pages. Eugenides concludes the novel in this way to force the reader to connect the optimism


74 Cal feels as a teenage boy to th e romantic breakthrough he experien ces as an adult with Julie. This strategy invites a positive reading of the novel, and consequently, of the suburb. Despite the resolution of the nove l that indicates Cal is happ ily adjusted to his identity, Susan Frelich Appleton questions E ugenides' choice to depict Cal as a heterosexual male. Some scholars applaud the queer-oriente d conclusion [that facil itates] a new type of being through the character of Ca l (Callado-Rodriquez 83), Appleton prefers to view Cal as a straight man. She interprets his choice to trade in a girlhood for a manhood as a decision made [i]n recognition of his chromosomes, hormones, and physical attraction to women (406). While overall offering a positive and productive reading of Middlesex, Appleton explores possible alternatives to Cal's identity, such as a lesbian woman, or a person who repudiates gender and sexual categories altogether. However, Applet on's reading is useful because it acknowledges the successful transition to manhood Cal experiences. She also suggests that readers (especially those she terms gender dichotomists) can mo re readily empathize with a heterosexual male version of Cal. In other words, Cal's other pos sible gender expressions w ould be too deviant to engender the type of rap port with the reader that he is able to do so in Middlesex; a lesbian woman would deter the homophobic reader a nd a gender outlaw would offend the gender dichotomist (434). Because Eugenides portrays Ca l as fitting neatly within the boundaries of heterosexual manhood, his existence does not disr upt the relationship between categories of gender (of which there are two) and sexuality (o ne of which is correctheterosexualand one that is devianthomosexual). While Appleton correctly cont ends that Eugenides' emphasi s on the biological component of Cal's condition portrays Cal and other intersexed individual s as the hapless victims of a condition or abnormality over which they have no control (437), her concern with Middlesex is


75 in its implications for United States legal decisi ons regarding marriage. Her critique fails to acknowledge that Cal articulates hi s heterosexual male identity outside of the United States. The culmination of his desirethat is the insinuated sex with Julie does not occur in an American context, but in Berlin. In other words, he overc omes the final barrier of shame in a foreign urban space. To redirect Appleton's questions about alte rnative identity choices for Cal within the context of American suburban discourse reveals Cal' s status as a straight man to be considerably less successful. His decision to temporarily abandon his family in search of his identity in San Francisco implies that his suburban environment did not provide a safe haven for this transition. His career path in the Foreign Service as an adul t further reflects the suburb as an insufficient residence for an intersexed man. Finally, his relati onship with Julie that marks his final personal reconciliation with his body, occurs in Berlin, a place he will soon be forced to leave. These details complicate Appleton's reading of Cal as a straight man, specifically because he rejects the role of straight man that could be availabl e to him in the suburbs had he desired it. Just as Cal's parents and grandparents burie d their sexual deviance underneath a facade of white, middle-class heteronormativity, Cal could ha ve refashioned himself similarly, obscuring his gender variation behind his nor mative racial, class and sexual identities. Outwardly, Cal functions as a normal man. Therefore, to 'pass' as a heterosexual man would have granted him membership into the American suburb. With the secrets sexual deviance of his predecessors and his non-normative genital construction properly kept, Cal could perpetuate the Stephanides family's suburban legacy. He would simply n eed to uphold the family's fiction of normativity. Yet, as Appleton fails to note, he rejects that option. He chooses not to embrace a straight male identity in favor of an intersexed one. Because he takes on a queer gender identity that indicates


76 that his sexual orientation escapes clear demarca tion into the categories of straight or gay, he must abandon the suburban life altogether. Choosing to stay in Grosse Pointe would threaten to undo all the labor his parents and grandparents put forth in achieving suburban status. So, he removes himself as the physical evidence of incest uous desire and aspires toward a straight male identity that incorporates his inters exuality rather than disavow it. Eugenides shows the suburbs to be tolerant of gender variance as long as it can maintain a safe distance from it. Tessie's reaction to Cal's first homecoming following his reinvention of himself as male exemplifies this attitude. At fi rst, she fears his gender identity will reflect poorly on her own behavior. But, she acce pts her child once she realizes th at he is essentially the same person, equally qualified to fill the daughterly role despite a masculine gender presentation (520). Tessie's treatment of Cal symbolizes the larger attitude toward deviation from the norm that characterized the suburb fo r previous generations of the Stephanides family: as long as you do not threaten to unmask the suburb as a mere ideology, you may stay. Cal's desire to love and be loved as an intersexed man precludes suburban membership. For this reason, the suburb that Eugenides wishes to applaud fo r its progressive tolerance of gender variance is instead reified as rigid, traditional, and rooted firmly in white, middle-class heteronormativity. While the Stephanides family is a testament that the suburbs do, in fact, house sexual deviance, they also reveal the necess ity to contain it completelyan endeavor that requires an enormous amount of effort. So wh ile Cal recognizes a slight shift in attitude between the world views of his parents' generati on and his own, he concedes, [s]till, it was not nothing to witness me so changed (515). In ot her words, the Grosse Pointe he leaves behind remains only slightly unchanged after Cal escape s to San Francisco. Despite his hope that his


77 suburb would become a place designed for a new type of human being, it remained the beacon it was intended to be, a beacon of suburbia (529). The considerable length of Middlesex allows for extensive charac ter development, not only of Cal, but of his family as well. Furtherm ore, the shift between om niscient and first person narration facilitates the humanization of each majo r character in the novel. Because the reader experiences the journey to the American suburb from the perspective of each generation of the Stephanides family, the novel evokes a sympathe tic response to the id eological work that individuals do. Unlike The Virgin Suicides, which concludes with a critical anticlimax, Middlesex invites readers to celebrate Cal's persona l triumph and empathize with his family's struggle for suburban membership. While Eugenides attempts to connect th e critique of suburbia from his first novel to his second, Middlesex ultimately humanizes the labor the suburb requires to the extent that the novel become s a different project altogether. The duality of distance /proximity present in The Virgin Suicides' narrative structure does resonate with Cal's simultaneous intimacy with and rejection of Grosse Pointe. The novel's structure of narrator retrospect ively telling the story of the suburbs anticipates an extended critique of the suburb. Cal's in itial separation from the suburb, as a resident of Berlin, suggests that he rejects the suburb because of the repressive forces that made his intersexed condition possible. But by the end of the novel, Eugenides expects readers to sympathize with each unique member of the family and forgive them for thei r laborious clamoring for suburban membership. Because Cal's story ends with romantic trium ph, the transgression of his grandparents can be forgiven and forgotten. In this forgetting, however, is an American suburb that continues to exert willful labor in order to protect and maintain an image that would not include the Stephanides family had Cal attempted to embody an in tersexed identity in Grosse Pointe.


78 The resolution of Middlesex advocates an acceptance of th e image of the suburb as an inevitable but manageable obstacle to the American Dream. Transcending this barrier requires sacrifice and deceit, but delivers a satisfying su burban lifestyle that results in permanent belonging in America. Middlesex claims that approaching whiteness, middle-class status and heteronormativity grants access to suburbia. To re fuse is noble, but to accept is normal. Thus Eugenides fails to deliver a seque l to his scathing critique of th e image of the American suburb he poses in The Virgin Suicides because Middlesex celebrates the malleabili ty of race, class and sexuality rather than critiquing the necessity to repress difference in favor of normalization.


79 CHAPTER 5 CONCLUSION Eugenides' image of suburban Detroit res onates with the pictures painted by both Bill Bryson and Richard Bachman. A distant observer mi ght witness the outward signs of similarity in these illustrations: well-manicured lawns, ch ildren playing outside, single family homes, a sense of neighborhood camaraderie. These detail s provide a rough sketch of the commonsense vision of American suburbia that each of these authors conjures in their fictive settings. Yet the story of suburbia is not as neatly packaged as it se ems to be. Its ubiquity in the American imagination allows for the image of th e suburb to stand as a cultural icon without too much protest. Thus, Bryson can write suburbanites enjoy a good laugh and then sit around drinking iced tea and talking applia nces for an hour or so. No human being had ever been quite this happy beforeand readers believe him (6). It is not that Bryson is intentionally deceitful, because his memoir attests to the fact that fo r him, the happy neighborhood did exist. Rather, Bryson invites the readers to share his nostalgia fo r the suburbs and is successful because he taps into a familiar American trope about the suburb as the apotheosis of the American Dream. Of course, not every reader will relate to Bryson' s childhood experiences of the suburb directly, but they can at least imagine it. The ideology of the Amer ican suburb, while upholding whiteness and middle-class status as quinte ssential suburban qualities, is de mocratic in that it allows anyone to participate in the fantasy. Because the suburb exists only as an image, it becomes repackaged as experience through series of re petitive decisionsficti ons suburbanites tell themselves and each other. Central to this narra tive is a binary mode of thinking that divides urban and rural spaces in opposition to one anothe r and ranks the suburb as the preferred, safe, white middle-class haven over the filthy, crime-ridden and diverse city.


80 Implementing and maintaining this image and separation from the nearby city requires an enormous amount of labor, as Eugenides demonstrates in The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex The Lisbons and their neighbors repr ess the potential devi ant sexuality of the five sisters, cover up the markers of deterioration of the suburb and willfully ignore evidence of Detroit's presence in their midst. The Virgin Suicides arrives already embedded in the suburban image, unlike Middlesex which traces the laborious process by whic h the Stephanides family gains entrance into suburbia. The labor in Middlesex occurs in many forms over three generations of individuals who are each invested in their own journey toward Americanization. Transcending racial and class differences, the Stephanideses emerge as rightful members of the American suburb. The continued effort to project whiteness, middle-class status, and heteronormativity allows them to imagine themselves as having achieved the American Dream. Each of these novels exemplif ies the inextricable tie between race, class and sexuality, as Mason Stokes contends in The Color of Sex For the protagonists in The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex, the unacknowledged mandate of heteronor mativity in suburbia effects negative consequences. The Lisbon girls escape th e sexual repression in their neighborhood by committing suicide. Cal rejects the suburb's offer to allow him to stay, provided he perpetuates the labor that masks his family's incest and his own intersexuality. While Eugenides specifically contends with the suburb as literary space, his pr oximity to the actual suburb suggests a return to the ramifications the imagined suburb may have on the real, experiential suburb. My reading of Eugenides novels claims that socio-historical scholarship is inco mplete without consideration of sexuality as an avenue by which to interrogate and challenge the commonsense vision of the suburb.


81 Revisionist scholars have recently be gun to expand on previous work on Black suburbanization and working-class suburbs to incorporate sexuality and queerness in the discourse. For example, Wayne H. Brekhus' work Peacocks, Chameleons, Centaurs: Gay Suburbia and the Grammar of Social Identity (2003) provides ethnographic data about gay men who reside in suburbia and negotia te their sexual identities in various ways. Brekhus finds that the gay men he encountered in a single subur b of New York City ar ticulate suburban gay identities that range from fully visible within the suburb and more private, with a separate gay identity reserved only for city spaces. He outlines three categories of gay identity presentation in terms of duration and intensity: the peacock (the lifestyler), the chameleon (the commuter), and the centaur (the integrator). Brekhus' study relies on a boundary between urban and suburban space and recognizes the distinct expectations an d moral code present in each. He comments, suburbs, for instance, have a sanitizing effect on public displays, while commercial and red light districts of larger ci ties encourage more conspicuous identity displays (20). Brekhus' project is concerned only with the literal experience of the individuals in the suburb. While it is important to adjust suburban history to in clude gay men and other queer identities, this sociological st udy insists on a reality of suburbi a that ignores its literary dimension. Peacocks, Chameleons, Centaurs in focusing on recording and assessing experience, overlooks the looming im age of suburbia that clearly ex cludes gay male identities. As my readings of Eugenides novels show, the imagined suburb powerfully shapes the every day twentieth century details of suburban residents an d imbues perfunctory tasks such as yard work with enormous cultural weight. Brekhus contributes to the growing body of scholarship that seeks to rewrite suburban history, but it cannot be complete without considering the imag ined aspect of the suburb.


82 Because the image is a literary space, it cannot be captured by so cio-historical research. Thus, suburban scholarship requires an in terdisciplinary approach in or der to account for the complex and subtle reach of the image of the suburb. The image remains pervasive into the tw entieth century neces sitating a continued exploration of its impact on the construction of American identity. Those who chose to reside in the contemporary suburb do so because it promises to provide a particular American lifestyle that they desire for themselves. Characterized by mi ddle-class status, homeownership, material and economic success, idyllic landscapes, convenien t location and friendly neighbors, the suburb serves as a healthy haven from the ills of the densely populated city. The recent trend toward gated suburban communities exemplifies the sens e that the suburb remains both separate and superior from its urban counter part. Fortressing a neighborhood with walls and gates solves Americans' dilemma of how to protect themselv es and their children from danger, crime, and unknown others while still perpetuating open, frie ndly neighborhoods and comfortable, safe homes (Low 462). Implicit in this impulse to erect physical boundaries around a suburb is the ideological distance it establishes from the c ity. The perceived need for di vision of spaces rests on the assumption that the city produces crime, poverty and social disorder. The suburb, then, still exists as a viable alternative, a space constructed in opposition to city filth that offers a safe, stable, American way of life. However, as Se tha Low points out, the distinction between suburb and city results in false secu rity provided by architectural sy mbols such as gates and walls (262). In reality, gated commun ities are not safer than nongated communities . Instead, the logic of symbolism satisfies middle-class understandings of the nature of criminal activity'it makes it harder for them to get in' (462). Low insists the insulation offered by the trappings of


83 suburbia is false. In other words, gates and wa lls provide ideological se curity and separation but fail to deliver any actual protection from th e threat of crime. Residents simply feel safer when enclosed within a gate. Low's discussion of gated communities sp eaks to an intensified example of the fundamental thrust of suburbia: to protect wh ite, middle-class families from contamination by various forms of city filth. Bryson and Bachman co rroborate this in their de scriptions of blissful suburban life that resonate with a commonsense understandi ng of the American suburb. However, if as Low suggests, the promises of suburbia are false ones, why do these images persist? Why do Americans continue to reside in a suburb that perhaps does not insulate them from the city? What is at stake for those w ho do not fit within the prototypical model of suburbanite? Eugenides novels begin to answer some of these questions through his literary representation of suburbia. Lega l scholar Susan Frelich Appleton merges the questions raised by his critique with contemporary issues about human rights and gay marriage. Using Middlesex as a bridge between fictive identities and the assump tions they reflect in society, Appleton poses a new question: Given his [Cal's] unusual sexual ci rcumstances, what effect does this protagonist with such a winning personality have on our under standing of sex and gender, and in turn, the way the law approaches these categories? (393). Appleton's reading of Cal as a useful tool for humanizing difference shows how literature can be employed to effect real change. She argu es that a mainstream view of American society emerges from the world that people encounter in books, movies, theater and the media (394). Thus they provide discursive space for imagini ng American differently a nd incorporating various deviations from gender and sexual norms. Because Cal is an approachable and likable narrator,


84 the reader wants him to succeed a nd celebrates his personal triumph. Middlesex humanizes an intersexed character whose actualized counterpa rt remains invisible and marginalized in American society. Appleton ar gues that literary characters such as Cal serve as thought experiments about the forks in the road that lie ahead in the realm of legal change, LGBTQ rights and overall soci al consciousness (396). The readings of Eugenides' novels presented in this paper, along with Appleton's analysis of Middlesex in a legal context suggest that the literary space of suburbia always already informs socio-historical scholarship a bout any actual place. To ignore the constructedness of the image and the intense labor required to maintain it is to miss the central purpose of the image in the first place: to create and sustain an American identity that is white, middle-class, heterosexual and suburban. Further interdisciplinary work promises to elucidate the consequences of perpetuating the image of suburbia and point to new imaginative spaces that account for the diverse population of the American suburb.


85 LIST OF REFERENCES Ahm ed, Sara. Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others Durham: Duke University Press, 2006. Appleton, Susan Frelich. Gender, Law, and Na rrative: Contesting Gender in Popular Culture and Family Law: Middlesex and Other Transgender Tales Indiana Law Journal 80Ind L.J. 391 (Spring 2005): 391. Baumgartner, M.P. The Moral Order of a Suburb New York: Oxford University press, 1988. Baxandall, Rosalyn and Elizabeth Ewen. Picture Windows: How the Suburbs Happened New York: Basic Books, 2000. Beauregard, Robert A. When America Became Suburban Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006. Berger, Bennett M. The Myth of Suburbia. The End of Innocence: A Suburban Reader Ed. Charles M. Haar. Glenview: Scott, Foresman and Company, 1972. Brekhus, Wayne H. Peacocks, Chameleons, Centaurs: Gay Suburbia and the Grammar of Social Identity Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003. Chandler, Marylin R. Voices Crying in the Suburbs Suburbia Re-examined. Ed. Barbara M. Kelly. Westport: Ho fstra University, 1989. 215. Clapson, Mark. Suburban Century: Social Change and Urban Growth in England and the United States. Oxford: Berg, 2003. Cohen, Anthony P. The Symbolic Construction of Community. New York: Tavistock Publications, 1985. Collado-Rodriguez, Francisco. Back to Myth and Ethical Compromise : Garcia Mrquezs Traces on Jeffrey Eugenidess The Virgin Suicides Atlantis 27.2 (December 2005): 27. --------. Of Self and Country: U.S. Politics, Cult ural Hybridity and Ambivalent Identity in Jeffrey Eugenidess Middlesex The International Fiction Review 33 (2006): 71. Donaldson, Scott. The Suburban Myth. New York: Columbia University Press, 1969. Eugenides, Jeffrey. Middlesex. New York: Picador, 2004. --------. The Virgin Suicides New York: Warner Books, 1993. Fenton, Steve. Ethnicity: Racism, Class and Culture Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1999


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88 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Mallo ry Szymanski received her Bachelor of Arts degree in English and history from the University of Florida in 2006. This thesis marks the culmination of her work toward a Master of Arts degree in women's studies.