The Stepford Wives is a 1972 satirical thriller novel by Ira Levin. The story concerns Joanna Eberhart, a photographer and young mother who begins to suspect that the frighteningly submissive housewives in her new idyllic Connecticut neighborhood may be robots created by their husbands.
Two films of the same name have been adapted from the novel; the first starred Katharine Ross and was released in 1975, while a remake starring Nicole Kidman appeared in 2004. Edgar J. Scherick produced the 1975 version, all three sequels, and was posthumously credited as producer in the 2004 remake.
The term "Stepford wife", which is often used in popular culture, stemmed from the novel, and is usually a reference to a submissive and docile housewife.
The premise involves the married men of the fictional town of Stepford, Connecticut, and their fawning, submissive, impossibly beautiful wives. The protagonist is Joanna Eberhart, a talented photographer newly arrived from New York City with her husband and children, eager to start a new life. As time goes on, she becomes increasingly disturbed by the zombie-like, submissive Stepford wives, especially when she sees her once independent-minded friends – fellow new arrivals to Stepford – turn into mindless, docile housewives overnight. Her husband, who seems to be spending more and more time at meetings of the local men's association, mocks her fears.
As the story progresses, Joanna becomes convinced that the wives of Stepford are being poisoned or brainwashed into submission by the men's club. She visits the library and reads up on the pasts of Stepford's wives, finding out that some of the women were once feminist activists and very successful professionals, while the leader of the men's club is a former Disney engineer and others are artists and scientists, capable of creating lifelike robots. Her friend Bobbie helps her investigate, going so far as to write to the EPA to inquire about possible environmental toxins in Stepford. However, eventually, Bobbie is also transformed into a docile housewife and has no interest in her previous activities.
At the end of the novel, Joanna decides to flee Stepford, but when she gets home she finds that her children have been taken. She asks her husband to let her leave, but he takes her car keys. She manages to escape from the house on foot, and several of the men's club members track her down. They corner her in the woods and she accuses them of creating robots out of the town's women. The men deny the accusation, and ask Joanna if she would believe them if she saw one of the other women bleed. Joanna agrees to this, and they take her to Bobbie's house. Bobbie's husband and son are upstairs, with loud rock music playing – as if to cover screams. The scene ends as Bobbie brandishes a knife at her former friend. In the story's epilogue, Joanna has become another Stepford wife gliding through the local supermarket, and has given up her career as a photographer, while Ruthanne (a new resident in Stepford) appears poised to become the conspiracy's next victim.