Journal of American Studies

Research Article

Suburban Gothic and the Ethnic Uncanny in Jeffrey Eugenides's The Virgin Suicides



If uncertainty and anxiety are the troubling but potentially radical qualities of gothic narrative, suburban gothic has typically been understood in terms of a banal unhomeliness which merely confirms reassuring commonplaces about the postwar American suburbs. In such readings, the suburbs are supposed to embody a desire to stand outside history: either they are places in which people seek refuge from their own pasts, or they represent an idealized past removed from the challenges of the present. This article argues that Jeffrey Eugenides's 1993 novel The Virgin Suicides undermines easy assumptions about the suburbs' atemporality. The novel's various gothic motifs suggest the difficulty of abandoning European pasts in order to adopt the white American identities required for a life in the suburbs; repressed ethnic difference haunts the suburban landscape. Yet Eugenides's suburban gothic also complicates the process of remembering such acts of forgetting: the difficulty of explicating suburban pasts, the novel insists, is precisely a measure of their having become historical. The drive to present comforting, codified narratives of the suburbs is shown to be part of a move – which always fails – to disassociate the present from these sites of conflict and trauma.

(Online publication July 04 2012)

Department of English Literature, Kingston University. Email: