Lily King


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  • Features 31 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
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Euphoria Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 40-page guide for “Euphoria” by Lily King includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 31 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Gender, Rivalry, and Cooperation and Love Triangles, Adultery, and the Formation of New Tribes.

Plot Summary

A New York Times Best Seller and winner of the 2014 Kirkus Prize for fiction, Lily King’s novel Euphoria is inspired by the life and fieldwork of eminent American anthropologist Margaret Mead. Specifically, King looked at the time in 1933 when Mead, the woman whom protagonist Nell Stone is based on, went to what was then known as the Territory of New Guinea with anthropologists Gregory Bateson and Reo Fortune. In the Acknowledgements at the end of the book, King writes that she has “borrowed from the lives and experiences of these three people” but has “told a different story” (258).

The novel begins with anthropologist Nell Stone and her husband Schuyler Fenwick (Fen) leaving the violent Mumbanyo tribe and meeting Andrew Bankson. Andrew, feeling suicidal and lonely, fixes Nell and Fen up with a gig studying the Tam tribe at Lake Tam, while he studies the Kiona nearby. Nell becomes sick with a fever and injured ankle, and Andrew tends to her wounds.

Fen focuses on finding a sacred tribal object that he can sell to a museum, thereby securing himself the kind of fortune and fame that will eclipse his wife’s success. Nell studies the social dynamics of the Tam tribe and gets closer to the women and children. Each time Andrew visits, he falls more in love with Nell, and she in turn grows to depend on him for her sense of well-being. Meanwhile, Xambun, a member of the tribe, goes into indentured servitude for a white-owned mine.

Working together, the three anthropologists develop the idea of the Grid; a system for diagramming personalities and the temperaments of tribes according to the cardinal points on a compass. While Fen is aggressive and Northern, Andrew and Nell are Southern and more compassionate and compliant. Intimidated by how Andrew and Nell seem to read each other’s thoughts, Fen drops the bombshell that Nell is pregnant.

The next morning, Fen steals Andrew’s canoe and goes off with Xambun to find a sacred flute. Meanwhile, Andrew and Nell get closer and make love. Fen returns with the news that Xambun is dead, killed in an ambush by Kolekamban and his brothers. When the Tam tribe request that the flute be buried with Xambun, Fen refuses. Andrew insists that they all leave, as it is not safe for them to stay around.

In Sydney, Nell and Fen board a ship to New York. Separately, Nell decides to leave New York and return to Sydney for Andrew. Andrew decides to go to New York to reunite with Nell. However, on reaching Sydney, Andrew learns that Nell has hemorrhaged to death on the ship, and Fen has given her a sea burial. Devastated, Andrew returns to his own mother in England. Fen then disappears into obscurity. Andrew enjoys a long and successful career as an anthropologist, becoming famous for his publication of the Grid theory. He avoids visiting Nell’s country of origin, America, apart from one trip, where he is invited to the opening of the Peoples of the Pacific Hall at the American Museum of Natural History. There, the sight of Nell’s button in a Tam death mask moves him.

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Chapters 1-10