The Virgin Suicides is set in the 1970s in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, which is in the north of the United States. Grosse Pointe is a suburban area that contains five ‘Pointes’ that are small cities in Wayne County close to the city of Detroit. Grosse Pointe city is considered the downtown area for the other four ‘Pointes’ and includes the central Village retail district. The other communities are called Grosse Pointe Park, Grosse Pointe Farms, Grosse Pointe Shores and Grosse Pointe Woods.
French farmers and fur trappers (people who make a living from trapping animals for their fur) first settled in Grosse Pointe in the 1750s and members of the British empire arrived during the period of the American Revolution (1775 - 1783). The legacy of these early settlers is reflected in the many French street names in Grosse Pointe. A quarter of the wider Detroit population has German heritage, stemming from the recruitment of them to farm land in the mid 19th century. Many retained their German language and culture into the 20th century. Grosse Pointe and Detroit residents also commonly have Polish, Irish, Italian and Greek heritage from widespread immigration in the 19th century and early 20th century. The protagonist of Eugenides' second novel Middlesex (2002), as well as Eugenides himself, has Greek grandparents who arrive in Detroit from Asia Minor after fleeing the 1922 Greco-Turkish war. The largest reported religious affiliation in Grosse Pointe is Roman Catholic.
More: Discover the legends of Grosse Pointe.
Wealthy Detroit residents built second homes (often mansions) in Grosse Pointe from the mid 19th century. Grosse Pointe began to be considered for permanent residence by Detroiters with the introduction of the automobile and a passenger rail line (which was decommissioned after the automobile grew in popularity) and the western areas of Grosse Pointe were developed by 1930. Predominate architecture includes neo-Georgian, Tudor revival, French colonial and Dutch colonial.
More: Read about the 'auto barons' of Grosse Pointe.
Grosse Pointe has numerous exclusive private clubs including the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club and the Grosse Pointe Club (also known as the “Little Club”), reflecting the high socioeconomic status of residents. In addition to being the birthplace of The Virgin Suicides author Jeffrey Eugenides, notable residents have included Packard Motor Car Company president Henry B. Joy, architect William Kessler, White Stripes musician Meg White and several generations of Henry Ford’s family.
More: Watch short films by Grosse Pointe Historical Society: "Recollections of the Past: 1650 - 1900" and "Past As Prologue: 1900 - Present".
Detroit, known as “The Motor City” due to its historical status as the centre of the automobile industries, is the larget city in Michigan. In the 19th century Detroit became a hub for transportation due to its location along the Great Lakes waterway. In 1903 Henry Ford founded the Ford Motor Company, and along with other emerging automotive leaders William C. Durant, the Dodge brothers, Packard and Walter Chrysler, Detroit flourished economically.
More: Explore the life of Henry Ford
In the 1960s Detroit became known as the home of Motown, the first record label owned by an African-American (Berry Gordy). Motown’s signature sound was soul-influenced pop and it launched artists including Diana Ross & The Supremes, The Four Tops and the Jackson Five, while Berry’s other labels released hits by Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and The Temptations.
The city was once the fourth most populous in the United States due to the influx of workers from the Southern states and European immigrants to work in the burgeoning manufacturing industries, but the move to the suburbs for those that could afford to (known as ‘white flight’) after 1950 led to the city’s decline. White flight was accelerated by the 12th Street riot in 1967 (racial tensions made worse by a police raid on an unlicensed bar frequented by African-Americans) and the prevention of minority groups from obtaining mortgages to live in the suburbs. Detroit has never properly recovered economically and the population fell from 1.8 million in 1950 to less than half that today. This has led to Detroit having high levels of crime (particularly connected to heroin and crack cocaine dealing and abuse) and unemployment.
More: Slideshow of "The Fabulous Ruins of Detroit"