Middlesex Summary and Analysis of Book Four, Chapters 1-3


The Oracular Vulva

At the request of the doctor who treated Calliope for her concussion, Milton and Tessie take Calliope to Dr. Philobosian one last time. Now eighty-eight years old, Dr. Phil gives her a medical exam, finally finding what he missed fourteen years earlier. Too embarrassed to speak of it, he refers them to an endocrinologist. The family flies to New York, where they stay at the Lochmoor, a hotel that Milton stayed at during his time in the Navy. It has fallen into disrepair, and Calliope's spirits sink even lower.

The next day, Calliope and her family go to see Dr. Luce, a noted sexologist who has written, among many books, a column for Playboy called The Oracular Vulva. At his Sexual Disorders and Gender Identity Clinic, the walls are covered in figures engaged in sexual acts and images of genitalia are everywhere. Dr. Luce is a hip-looking man, with long, silver hair and bell bottom pants. Excited, he examines Calliope, measuring her crocus and taking samples of her blood and tissue. He suggests that they do a psychological exam later. Dr. Luce is the world's leading authority on hermaphroditism, which he defines using several criteria including chromosomal sex, gonadal sex, hormones, genitals, and the sex of rearing. To Dr. Luce, Calliope is a thrilling specimen, someone with primarily male sexual characteristics who has been raised as a girl for fourteen years. When Dr. Luce reports back to Milton and Tessie, he tries to calm them down, telling them that there are "effective treatments" for the case. Milton is relieved, but Tessie senses the trouble to come and remains anxious.

Milton leaves New York to attend to his business, and Tessie and Calliope are left alone to spend his money. At Dr. Luce's, Calliope answers many questions about her life: her sexual preferences, her hobbies, how she feels. Calliope writes a narrative of her life, lying about the Object and instead shifting her feelings towards Jerome. Captivated, Dr. Luce brings in other doctors to show off his patient, hoping to get more funding for the clinic. Calliope is put on display, a Midwestern curiosity piece exposed to cold, photographic light. She asks her family repeatedly to go home, but they tell her she must wait until she's better. At night, Tessie has nightmarish dreams of monstrous children and consanguinity.

Looking Myself Up in Webster's

After two weeks, Dr. Luce comes up with a diagnosis. The three Stephanides worry as they enter the building, and Milton has dressed in his strongest suit for confidence. There, Dr. Luce explains how both types of sexual characteristics develop in utero into male or female characteristics. Because of Cal's 5-alpha-reductase deficiency, his body did not produce dihydrotestosterone and so his genitalia followed a female line of development. Because he was treated like a girl, he has essentially become a girl. During puberty, testosterone production kicked in and started changing his body. Dr. Luce tells Milton and Tessie that they can "correct" Calliope by giving her hormone injections and cosmetic surgery, although she will never be able to have children. They agree to the surgery, hoping that no one will ever know their secret.

While Calliope's parents are in their meeting with Dr. Luce, Calliope explores the New York Public Library, specifically the Merriam Webster's dictionary there. She looks up the medical jargon she's heard Dr. Luce use and begins to panic when the list of synonyms for her condition ends with "monster." Her parents arrive to pick her up and they head back to Dr. Luce, who explains to Calliope that there is nothing to worry about - hormone treatment and cosmetic surgery will fix almost all of her problems. When Dr. Luce steps out of the room, Calliope finds her medical report, which reveals that biologically, she is a boy. Dr. Luce has made the decision that because she identifies as a girl, was raised as a girl, and is attracted to males, it would be better for her to undergo "femininizing" surgery. Dismayed, Calliope returns to her hotel. She pretends to be sick to get out of going to a Broadway show with her parents, packs her bags, and writes a goodbye note to her parents. She runs away to avoid the shame, the lying, and being a problem to her parents.

Go West, Young Man

Running from Dr. Luce's surgery, Cal boards a train to Scranton. He picks out an old man's suit, trying to pass as a boy. At Ed's Barbershop in Scranton, he cuts off all his hair. His face has taken on more masculine characteristics - it's squarer, his neck is thicker, and his Adam's apple is more prominent. After eating in Scranton, Cal keeps moving, hitchhiking with truck drivers and couples. He tells strangers that he is on his way to his freshmen year of college, affecting overly masculine attitudes to convince people of his gender. He is still traumatized by the report, but he makes up for it with spirit and by eating extra desserts. For a while, Cal rides with a middle-aged couple named Myron and Silvia Bresnick, whose interactions with him help him become more male-identified. Cal is uncomfortable buying men's items and being in men's bathrooms, but his new exploration of his sexual organs helps convince him that this is the right path for him. A man with a Brooklyn accent named Ben Scheer picks Cal up and impresses him with his Eastern coolness. Soon, however, Scheer tries to take advantage of Cal and Cal runs away. He hitches a ride with a man who had been eerily smiling at him the night before.


In this chapter, Cal begins an interesting discussion of the definition of gender through the research of Dr. Luce. A noted sexologist, Dr. Luce has reworked the criteria for defining gender, basing it on a combination of chromosomal sex, gonadal sex, hormones, internal genital structures, external genitals, and (most importantly) the sex the individual was raised as. His work with Calliope poses an interesting problem because Calliope's situation is unique. Since Calliope is a (mostly) male person raised as a female, Calliope is the perfect specimen to examine the effects of nature and nurture on gender identification. In Dr. Luce's knowledge and open-mindedness towards gender and sexual preference, he could be a great help for Calliope. His zeal for his theories, however, overrides his concern for or interest in his subject.

Dr. Luce and Calliope's interactions concern the themes of free will and destiny that Cal introduces in the beginning of the book. According to Dr. Luce's theory, the strongest factor in defining gender is the gender one was raised as, so he decides to perform surgery on Calliope to keep her as a girl. Cal's body, of course, has other ideas. In some ways, Cal's body represents genetic destiny, while Dr. Luce's decision represents (flawed) free will. While it is difficult to entirely blame Dr. Luce since Calliope lied to him in many of their interviews, his approach is flawed. He fails to ask Calliope what she wants to exist as or what gender she identifies as.

While at Dr. Luce's, Cal engages in another version of free will: writing her narrative. Although the narrative that Calliope turns into Dr Luce is different from Middlesex, it helps illuminate the writing process and Cal's thoughts about narrative. Luce calls the document he asks Calliope to write her "Psychological Narrative," a dubious title made ironic by the fact that Calliope mostly lies in her narrative. Dr. Luce expects to be able to study Calliope by reading her description of herself, but he completely misreads both the narrative and Calliope.

We can see hints here of the struggle and tension between literature and real life, how impossible it is to capture the truth on paper, no matter how hard you try. This idea can be applied to Eugenides' framing of Middlesex, which presents a truth that is not black and white but rather interpreted through the lens of what came before and what will follow. In her "Psychological Narrative," Calliope is the ultimate unreliable narrator, cheerily and deceitfully typing out her lies to Dr. Luce. The obvious parallel is to Cal as the narrator of Middlesex - his attempt to represent the truth is in stark contrast to his earlier experience with personal narrative as a young girl at Dr. Luce's office.

Her visit to Dr. Luce forces Calliope to confront another shadow that has been following her her entire life - the idea of monstrosity. Calliope has an ego-shattering moment when she looks up a word that Dr. Luce uses to describe her condition and realizes that one of its synonyms is "monster." This idea of "monstrosity" is not new - from the Minotaur play that Desdemona and Lefty saw the night they conceived Milton to Calliope's school mascot (the Wolverette), monstrosity has been a symbol in the Stephanides’ world for a long time. Tessie begins to have the same nightmares that Desdemona had of monstrous children formed from sin. Even the way that Calliope moves borders on the monstrous - she is gangly and uncoordinated, lacking in grace. It seems to Cal that she is fated to be a monster and so she runs away, renouncing her female identity.