Euphoria Summary & Study Guide

Lily King
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Euphoria Summary & Study Guide Description

Euphoria Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on Euphoria by Lily King.

Set in the mid-1930’s, “Euphoria” is the story of a love triangle in which the three participants interact on a variety of levels – emotional, intellectual, romantic, and sexual. Complicated, multi-level interactions of power, desire, and intention lead to violence that plays out on both personal and cultural levels, triggering and/or exploring themes related to, and defined by: gender relations, female sexuality and childbearing, obsession, and discovery of personal truth / inner light.

Structurally, the story unfolds in an extended flashback. Narrator and protagonist Andrew Bankson recalls his initial meeting with fellow anthropologists Nell Stone and Schuyler Fenwick (Fen), married to each other but scientifically and intellectually competitive. The suicidal Bankson, despairing because his life and career both seem stalled, becomes happily (and somewhat desperately) involved with them, hoping for (and eventually finding) personal and professional inspiration.

Bankson helps Fen and Nell find a non-civilized / non-Westernized tribe to research. He attempts to leave them to their own work and focus on his own, but finds himself irresistibly drawn to both of them, becoming more and more involved both professionally and personally. Both Fen and Nell are driven by degrees of obsession with aspects of their work: Fen with success and notoriety, and with retrieving a particular artifact or relic that he believes will bring him both; and Nell with excavating truths that she believes are being kept from her. At the same time, both Nell and Fen seem preoccupied both with having a child of their own and with cultural rituals around babies and childbirth.

As Bankson becomes more and more involved with Fen and Nell, they in turn become increasingly preoccupied with pursuing their own goals. At the same time, Nell and Bankson find themselves becoming increasingly attracted to each other, much to the increasing anger and resentment of Fen. That resentment doesn’t stop him, however, from engaging with both Bankson and Nell in a passionate, intellectual debate / discussion of the work of another colleague, Helen Benjamin, a past lover of Nell’s. That debate results in the development of a theory called The Grid that categorizes and defines characteristics of tribes, genders within those tribes, and individuals of both genders.

Fen experiences the successful completion of The Grid as primarily an accomplishment of Bankson and Nell, and becomes increasingly determined to achieve a success of his own. With that goal in mind, he goes off in pursuit of the artifact he’s been pursuing for so long. In his absence, a series of circumstances (including Nell being allowed into a ritual she has long desired to observe) lead Bankson and Nell into an intense sexual encounter, interrupted only by Fen’s return with the violently retrieved artifact. The reaction to his return is so intense that Bankson feels that in order to stay alive, the trio has to leave, which they do reluctantly.

Having fled to Australia, Fen immediately starts to take advantage of having taken the artifact and begins to promote himself and his discovery. Nell tells Bankson that she cannot stay with him, and she makes plans to return to New York with Fen. After they leave, Bankson resolves to follow them, but is shocked to learn that on the voyage home, Nell has died and been buried at sea: there are suspicions that Fen was somehow involved, but those suspicions are never proven to be true.

As the narrative draws to a close, Bankson describes what happened to The Grid (its use by the Nazis in World War II to justify their genocidal war-making), his guilt over what happened, and how an exhibition of artifacts of his, Nell’s, and Fen’s work resulted in an unexpected reconnection with some of the best of his time with Nell.

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