The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides tells the story of love triangle originating at Brown University in the early 1980s. As an educator at a small (but growing!) liberal arts institution, I loved the way the big ideas these characters pick up in their classes influence their lives. College is not about learning to work, but learning to live.
Mitchell is a religious studies major. His spiritual journey takes him from Providence to Europe to India, where he serves the poor under Mother Teresa. Leonard is a biology major. He treats his mental illness as a problem to be solved, keeping detailed records of the dosage of his medication and the effects it has on his physical and mental states. Madeleine is an English major. She loves Jane Austen and Victorian literature and finds herself at the center of her own postmodern marriage plot as she struggles to choose between Mitchell and Leonard.
Eugenides writes in third person limited, spending time in the heads of each of his main characters. This technique paints a fuller picture of each character because we not only get to see what they are thinking, but also how others see them. This is particularly interesting when romantic rivals Mitchell and Leonard think of one another, since they really do not know each other. They both try to see the other as Madeline sees him and then wallow in the insecurity that their imaginations unleash.
The Marriage Plot is an ode to learning and the emotional power of ideas, but it is also about real young people struggling to find their places in the world. Eugenides captures the intensity of emotion experienced by college graduates embarking upon the world, certain that what they have learned matters and that the decisions they make will echo through their lives. [subscribe2]