27 December 2011
Jeffrey Eugenides The Marriage Plot
Eugenides The Marriage Plot begins with the idea that, with the death of the ideal of marriage at the end of the Victorian Age, the novel as a form died as well. This is the thesis one of Madeleine's professors posits and becomes the central question Madeleine herself pursues academically, all the time wondering if she has any original ideas in regards to this or if it is essentially an idea she has stolen. The novel, The Marriage Plot underlines that the above is not a dead issue. Mitchell's feelings about Madeleine vary little from descriptions of 19th century heroes such as Flaubert's Frederic Moreau. Eugenides writes, "And yet now, almost four years later, he could return to the moment at will (and it was surprising how often he wanted to do this), summoning all of its sensory details, the rumbling of the dryers, the pounding music next door, the linty smell of the dank basement laundry room He remembered exactly where he's been standing and how Madeleine had stopped forward, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear, as the sheet slipped and, for a few exhilarating moments, her pale, quiet, Episcopalian breast exposed itself to his sight." The three main characters, despite barely having graduated from Brown University, contemplate their relationships and marriage continuously. The idea of marriage complicated by the realities of sexual desire prevent Madeleine, Leonard, and Mitchell from exploring themselves, developing themselves because most of their time is spent wondering if/why/why not they are sexually attractive to each other. It is a tale of coming of age in the 1980's after the sexual revolution of the 60's which they have inherited along with a nebulous, melted down sense of a new social order. The concept of the "marriage plot" is finally exploded at the end of the novel when the efficacy of the outmoded duty is exploded and the characters each realize that responsibility and meaning comes first from taking care of yourself and understanding what your needs and desires are separate from those of the opposite sex. Eugenides' novel of the individual struggle for finding meaning in a world where the past tropes of social structure cannot provide answers is a melancholy reminder that we cannot hide behind empty artifices.