Middlesex Essay Questions

  1. 1

    What is the significance of Antigone within Middlesex?

    Calliope and the Object perform Antigone as part of their English class. Much like Middlesex, Antigone contains themes of incest and monstrosity, since Antigone is the daughter of Oedipus and Jocasta, Oedipus' mother. As a character, Antigone is also a symbol of female power and rebellion, however, and works as a model/foil for Calliope's struggles.

  2. 2

    How does Eugenides make Cal's very specific condition universally relatable?

    Instead of focusing on genetic differences, Eugenides depicts Cal as a third generation American from an immigrant family, struggling to define himself with respect to culture, gender, and sexuality. By situating this struggle within recognizable historic events, Eugenides enables the reader to identify with Cal and his struggle for identity and self-confidence. Although not many people are 5-alpha-reductase hermaphrodites, many have struggled with a negotiation of identity.

  3. 3

    What elements does Middlesex borrow from Greek drama, and how do they affect the novel?

    Calliope, named after the muse of epic poetry, invokes the muses semi-seriously at various points in the narrative, asking for their help in telling her story. Elsewhere, Cal references Greek tragedies and the deus ex machina ("god out of the machine") to explain certain events like Jimmy's death or Milton's removal from the Navy. While the references are usually somewhat tongue-in-cheek, they give the story a gravity that it might not otherwise have. No, Calliope's story is not a classical Greek epic, but it is an epic in its own way in its length, breadth, and the themes with which it grapples.

  4. 4

    What is the significance of the Obscure Object's name?

    Cal names the Obscure Object after a movie he saw, but the name is more significant in the way it characterizes their relationship and Cal's views on events in his life. Through this name, Cal's first love becomes reduced to a shifting and hazy object of fascination. As readers, we barely get a glimpse into her thought processes and motivations, instead seeing her as Cal portrays her, an enigmatic sexual object. Throughout the novel, Cal remarks on the significance of different mute objects in his life, and the Obscure Object is the most significant of all.

  5. 5

    How do circular narratives shape the perception of the past in Middlesex?

    By telling his narratives in circles, Cal interweaves the present and the past together into one near-simultaneous story. Through this structure, the reader understands that often the key to understanding the present is understanding the past. Desdemona and Lefty's illicit love and escape from Turkey are just as important to Cal's identity as the Obscure Object or the Detroit race riots.

  6. 6

    What purpose does Detroit serve as a setting for Middlesex?

    Besides being the location of a prominent Greektown, Detroit was highly influential in America's history as the automobile producing capitol of the world. Henry Ford's ideal of creating an affordable car simultaneously gave the average American more freedom while turning his human workers into cogs in the machine. Much like Cal, Detroit is a hybrid, made of idealism and freedom but also decrepitude and slavery. Detroit has struggled periodically throughout history (the city's motto is, "We hope for better things, it will arise from the ashes"), which mirrors the Stephanides' struggle and the overall immigrant and American struggle that Cal and Eugenides latch onto.

  7. 7

    How does the metaphor of Chekov's gun shape the narrative arc?

    Chekov's gun, a dramatic narrative rule that states that any element introduced must be used before the play is over, sets the stage for much foreshadowing. While the ultimate Chekov's gun is the revelation that Cal is, in fact, a boy, there are several other elements introduced early on that foreshadow the future, including Lefty's absurd amount of fire insurance and Milton's choices to risk his life for his property. Middlesex doesn't follow Chekov's gun completely, however, and plays with its rules, introducing guns that never go off (Milton's during the riots, the Object's father's at the lake house). This supports the hybridity theme within the novel - nothing can ever be one or the other, it is always a combination of several things.

  8. 8

    What effect do place and immigration have on the novel?

    Since Middlesex is an immigration novel, place and setting are constantly shifting, and each location gives a new lens to the family's identity and situation. The Stephanides family's homeland gives them epic tragedy, both as a traditional form of narrative and as personal story. Detroit represents the American Dream in its possibilities of mobility and freedom, but also the failures of that dream. San Francisco and its fog offer a safe place to morph and mature. Berlin is important as "not-American" but it also contains echoes of Detroit, with its faded industrialism and its dark past.

  9. 9

    How does the story of Cal's relationship with Julie Kikuchi change the novel?

    Besides assuaging the reader's curiosity about the current state of Cal's life, Cal's relationship with Julie lets the reader know that, despite his best efforts to "normalize" and embrace his intersex condition as a man, Cal still struggles with his identity a lot, especially when it comes to relationships. Identity searches aren't resolved quickly, and Cal still must struggle to be comfortable with himself. Besides this, Cal's relationship with Julie also gives the novel a happy ending, departing from typical Greek tragedies to a more American narrative form.

  10. 10

    How does Middlesex characterize hybridity and monstrosity?

    Although many characters react negatively to hybridity and perceived monstrosity, Middlesex shows over and over again the inevitability of hybridity. No one has all "masculine" or all "feminine" traits - from Desdemona's patriarchal worry beads to Cal still being "Tessie's daughter." Hybridity of cities and populations is also inevitable, as Detroit undergoes desegregation. This hybridity is not what is actually monstrous. The monstrous is represented by violent actions that humans take to repress this hybridity - the Turkish atrocities, the government's treatment of African Americans, and the hobos in the park who beat up Cal.