The Marriage Plot

By Jeffrey Eugenides
Genre: Literary Fiction
Buy Now This book is on reading list for February 2011


Why We Like This Book

Even among authors, Jeffrey Eugenides possesses a rare talent for being able to inhabit his characters. In The Marriage Plot, his third novel and first in ten years (following the Pulitzer Prize-winning Middlesex), Eugenides describes a year or so in the lives of three college seniors at Brown in the early 80s. There is Madeleine, a self-described “incurable romantic” who is slightly embarrassed at being so normal. There is Leonard, a brilliant, temperamental student from the Pacific Northwest. And completing the triangle is Mitchell, a Religious Studies major from Eugenides’ own Detroit. What follows is a book delivered in sincere and genuine prose, tracing the end of the students’ college days and continuing into those first, tentative steps toward true adulthood. This is a thoughtful and at times disarming novel about life, love, and discovery, set during a time when so much of life seems filled with deep portent. –Chris Schluep on 

Look for a blog the week of February 10 about The Marriage Plot.

Discussion Questions

What are the strengths of this novel? How would you characterize the writing and its reliance on trends in literary criticism?

Is Eugenides providing the reader with a commentary on the relevance of marriage? Why is the novel set in the 1980s? Is this a novel more about college-age angst than about marriage in the 20th century?

In what way is Madeleine representative of all women? Is she a well-developed character or merely a lens through which we ‘deconstruct’ the 1980s? How do Phyllida and Alwyn factor into this theme of marriage and gender roles?

How does the novel’s 1980s setting shape the plot? Do twenty-first-century college students face more or fewer challenges than Madeleine did?

What does Mitchell hope to discover as a student of religion? What role does religion play in his quest to be loved? Is his ideal—a religion devoid of myth and artificial social structures—attainable?

What does sex mean to Madeleine, Leonard, and Mitchell? Over the course of the novel, what do they discover about fantasy versus reality and the tandem between physical and emotional satisfaction?

What recurring themes did you detect in Mitchell’s trip overseas as he tries to manage his money, his love life, and Larry? Does he return to America a stronger, changed person or an amplified version of his college self?

Discuss the novel’s ending. Does it support the theme of the novel?


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