Middlesex Summary and Analysis of Book Three, Chapters 6-10


Waxing Lyrical

As Calliope begins to physically mature, Sophie Sassoon, a family friend, points out that she is developing a mustache. No one finds this astonishing because, as Cal points out, the Stephanides come from an area of the world known as the "Hair Belt." From Spain to India, women struggle with an excess of dark hair in unwanted places. Tessie takes Calliope to Sophie's salon to get the hair removed, which becomes another step in her developing personal care routine. While at the mall, Tessie tells Calliope that her brother has found a girlfriend.

When Chapter Eleven comes home, the family realizes that he has transformed from a nerd into a "John Lennon-lookalike." He takes up meditation and buys a motorcycle. He drops engineering to become an anthropologist. After beating Milton at ping-pong, he reveals to Calliope that he's tripping on acid. His girlfriend, Meg Zemka, arrives and alienates the family with her Marxist beliefs. Together, they try to teach Calliope about human sexuality, which she tries to drown out. Chapter Eleven tells the family that he doesn't share their values anymore and tells them off, riding away on his motorcycle. The family doesn't understand how Chapter Eleven has changed so much, but Cal posits that he changed the day he realized his future depended on the draft lottery.

The Obscure Object

At Baker & Inglis, her all-girls school, Calliope joins an advanced reading class taught by Mr. da Silva. There are only five girls in the class and the atmosphere is one of intimate excitement for knowledge. One day a girl comes into the class claiming that one of the other teachers sent her there. She astounds Calliope, who gets caught up in the girl’s vibrant red hair, ubiquitous freckles, and pouty, Protestant expression. Calliope becomes obsessed with the girl, watching her from afar lounge in class, walk with her friends, eat lunch, and ride bikes with boys. The Obscure Object, as Calliope calls her, is bewitching - a lazy girl of privilege who somehow captivates Calliope's attention. One day, Mr. da Silva calls on the Obscure Object to read the text. The Obscure Object's voice is beautiful and clear.

Calliope begins to suspect that she has a crush on the Obscure Object. At her school, it is acceptable to have envious, friend-crushes on girls, but girls suspected of being homosexual are shunned and gossiped about. Confused by her feelings and her emerging sexuality (Cal's refers to her "crocus" thawing), Calliope hides in the basement bathroom of the school often. Luckily for Calliope, Mr. da Silva casts her English class in a version of Antigone, with the Obscure Object as Antigone and Calliope as Tiresias. This gives Calliope a chance to get closer to her; she offers to help the Obscure Object learn her lines. They become friends against all odds, and Calliope visits the Obscure Object at her house several times. The Obscure Object admits that she's glad they've become friends.

The day of the play arrives and the girls gather on stage, nervous for their upcoming performance. The Obscure Object snaps at Calliope when she tries to comfort her, and Calliope feels unloved again. As the Obscure Object begins her opening lines with Maxine Grossinger, Maxine stops talking. The audience titters, unaware of what is going on at first. It soon becomes clear: Maxine has had a brain aneurysm and died. Terrified and traumatized, the Obscure Object flees the stage and runs into Calliope's arms for comfort.

Tiresias in Love

Still shocked from the tragedy at school, the Obscure Object and Calliope cling together all summer, becoming fast friends. One day, while sitting at the Grosse Pointe Club's pool, Calliope meets the Obscure Object's brother, Jerome. He has dyed his naturally red hair black and teases the two girls, telling them about his plans to make a movie about a vampire that goes to boarding school. The two girls ignore him. They spend the summer together, giving each other backrubs, talking about taboo subjects like gynecologists, and generally lazing around the Obscure Object's house and club. Calliope has been dreading the gynecologist visit that her mother scheduled, and in her hopelessness has started attending church again. Watching her extended family - Father Mike, the assistant priest, and Aunt Zoe - Calliope prays for her period to come so she can be like a normal girl.

On July 20, 1974, as Turkish planes are attacking Greek islands, another, miniature invasion is on the way in Grosse Pointe - a teenage house party. Calliope and the Obscure Object arrive, dressed up and looking for fun. Jerome and Rex Reese approach them, trying to flirt with them. Jerome tries to get Calliope to be in his movie, but she says she's going on vacation and pulls the Obscure Object aside out of jealousy toward Rex Reese. They have an intimate moment before the cops break up the party.

Back at church, Tessie and Calliope sit and pray. Stressed out about her gynecologist appointment, Calliope pretends to feel a pain where her uterus would be, simulating the feelings of her first period. Tessie is relieved to have her daughter finally go through this phase and rushes her to the bathroom. As they return home again, they find that news of the Turkish attack has reached America, and Milton and his friends are arguing viciously about it. Several men insinuate that the U.S. aided the Turks by interfering with the radar screen, and the dinner party grows ugly. Calliope is overjoyed, however, because their planned vacation to Turkey has been called off. She can spend the rest of the summer with the Obscure Object.

Flesh and Blood

As Calliope continues to fake her period, America watches Nixon struggle with his own fakery in the Watergate scandal. Milton alienates his friends by refusing to condemn Nixon for Watergate or Kissinger for failing to help the Greeks against the Turks. When Milton finally says, "To hell with the Greeks," it is the final straw. The dinner parties stop and the friends stop coming. Tessie is angry with him and gives him the silent treatment. To calm her, Father Mike, her brother in law, brings her up to the sun deck. When Calliope and Aunt Zoe, his wife, join them with refreshments, it is obvious to everyone that he still has feelings for Tessie. Calliope escapes the fallout by going to the Obscure Object's vacation home with her.

Calliope drives up with the Obscure Object’s father, who indulges in a few portable cocktails along the way. When she gets there, Jerome shows her around the house. They go to find the Object, and Calliope is crushed to learn that she is with Rex Reese. The four of them decide to go find a hunting lodge in the woods and have a party there. To get back at the Object for flirting with Rex Reese, Calliope starts to flirt with Jerome. After breaking into the cabin, they sit on the two cots they find. Rex passes around a joint and beer and after a few minutes, the Object and Rex start making out. Calliope and Jerome sit around kind of awkwardly until Jerome also starts kissing Calliope. She doesn't want to be doing this, but she puts up with it. Calliope has an ecstatic moment where she seemingly transcends her own body and enters Rex Reese's, who is groping and kissing the Object on the other cot. While Jerome fumbles his way over Calliope's body, her mind kisses, caresses, and marvels at the Object's beauty. While Calliope is distracted, feeling the rightness of inhabiting Rex Reese's body, Jerome removes her overalls and enters her. The pain brings her consciousness back, and it is suddenly clear to Calliope that she is not a girl, but something in between. Horrified, she worries that Jerome has also learned her secret, but he smiles, content to have gone "all the way" with a girl. He hadn't noticed a thing.

The Gun on the Wall

When Calliope wakes up in bed after the cabin excursion, she feels dirty and tired. Downstairs, the Object gives her the cold shoulder, clearly upset that Calliope had sex with her brother. Dejected, Calliope goes back upstairs, where Jerome soon joins her. He starts kissing her, clearly making his way towards another round of sex. Calliope shoves him away and tells him that she doesn't "like him like that." He runs off, hurt and offended. Calliope mopes around for a little bit. She spots the Object and Rex Reese on the lake, water-skiing. The Object and Jerome fail to come home for dinner, and Calliope is awkwardly left alone with the Object's parents. After a little while, she goes to bed and sobs. Eventually, the Object returns and moves into the bed next to Calliope. Once she is sure that she has fallen asleep, Calliope starts inching towards the Object, eventually throwing her arm over her stomach. Calliope grows braver, lowering her head to kiss the Object's stomach, first moving up her body and then moving lower, down past the waistband of her underpants. Despite seeming asleep, the Object lifts her hips just a little to help Calliope.

The next day, they pretend like nothing happened. They eat scrapple and chat casually with the Object's family. Later, the Object and Calliope spy on Jerome as he makes his movie. Their muffled laughter attracts attention, and they run away from the set. In the evening, the Object rejects an invitation from Rex, and Calliope is overjoyed. From then on, they continue these nighttime couplings, having secret, ecstatic sex. Its specifics are ambiguous, and Calliope's "crocus" doesn't necessarily penetrate the Object, but it is sex nonetheless. Although the Object ostensibly remains asleep, she responds subtly to Calliope's actions, making positions easier and clenching and unclenching her fists. Calliope learns about her crocus, which is now about two inches long at its hardest, but lacks a urethra. And so Calliope refuses to question her sex, repressing the nagging notion that she might not be completely a girl.

One hot day, while the two girls are swinging on the porch, Calliope starts subtly and dazedly stimulating the Object with her fingers. Suddenly, the girls realize that Jerome is on the porch, watching them with a shocked expression. He viciously teases them about being "carpet munchers" and makes the Object cry. In retaliation, Calliope pins Jerome to the ground and spits in his face. Terrified about his reaction, Calliope then sprints away across the field. He chases her for a while and just as she is almost out of his range, he starts waving his arms, telling her to stop. It's too late - Calliope is hit by a tractor and blacks out. When she awakes, she's in the bed of the truck, resting her head in the Object's lap. Calliope is ecstatically happy to be there, and as the Object weeps over how scared she was, the two girls kiss for the first and last time. Calliope is rushed to the hospital, where the doctor there examines her body, finally revealing her body's secret.


Cal repeats several times throughout Middlesex the importance of mute objects to his story, and none is more important than Cal's own "Obscure Object." This nickname that Cal gives to his first love is telling - he reduces her down to an object of desire. Although he claims not to share her name for her protection, he doesn't even give her a pseudonym. Instead, he denies her personhood, feelings, or a voice. In some ways his representation of his love is problematic. In another way, however, we can see Cal's behavior as a struggle to understand a very tumultuous and confusing time in his life and also understand how his gender change and many years have altered his perception of that time. We can imagine how the now-male Cal would look back on the Obscure Object for many years as an object of fixation and his first love. Cal cannot remember the Object's voice as separate from his dreams and fantasies of her, so she does not get one in this story. By refusing to give the Object a name or a clear voice, Cal and Eugenides convey the mysterious fascination that Calliope feels towards her. We are equally confused and fascinated, trying to understand this nameless thing.

As the world enters the 1970s, the Stephanides family follows, going through its own moments of discovery and change. As the Vietnam War rages on, Calliope and Chapter Eleven sit at home, anxiously awaiting the results of the draft. When Chapter Eleven goes off to school, he follows many of his generation down the rabbit hole of self-discovery and recreational drug use, returning home at Thanksgiving with a Marxist girlfriend and high on LSD. Back home, Calliope is going through a self-discovery of her own, coming to terms with her burgeoning sexuality. Calliope struggles upon discovering that she is attracted to girls, finding herself fixated on the Obscure Object. This sexual discovery plays out in their increasingly intimate relationship, as well as in Calliope's discovery of her "crocus," her unusually developed sexual organ. In this way, the Stephanides family can be seen as a metaphorical microcosm of America's development. In Chapter Eleven we see the misguided idealism of the new generation, clashing against the conservative values of the previous generation. In Cal, we see the shifting battleground of identity, whether sexual, gender-based, or ethnic.

These chapters also engage with Cal's Greek past, specifically with Antigone, the play that her English class performs. Antigone, the third of Sophocles' Theban Plays, tells the story of Oedipus' daughter Antigone, who defies her uncle's decree that she cannot bury her dead brother because he tried to attack the city. The play has important thematic parallels to Middlesex. Antigone is the daughter of Oedipus and Jocasta, who is both Oedipus' wife and mother. Oedipus had unknowingly killed his father and married his mother, conceiving four children, one of whom was Antigone. Antigone, whose name means "anti-men" or "anti-generation" (sperm), is a strong female figure who stands up to her uncle and it sentenced to be buried alive because of it. By the time her uncle changes his mind, she has already hanged herself. Antigone is a Greek tragedy of epic proportions and Cal's performance of it cheekily suggests a comparison to Middlesex, which has its own secretive, incestuous relationship. The comparison works both ways, giving Cal's story weight and importance by putting it in the same vein as Antigone and making Cal's story seem less tragic and less extreme in comparison.

This section contains a tumultuous series of events. Structurally, it is central and momentous, containing the arguable climax of the novel: Calliope's accident leading to the discovery of her medical condition. As the title of the chapter denotes ("The Gun on the Wall"), this is the moment that the reader has been waiting for, Cal's second birth, the surfacing of the Stephanides family's mutated gene. Besides being a climax, however, it is also part of the circular structure of the narrative. This is the second automobile accident in the book and, like the Jimmy Zizmo’s, it foreshadows a future one.

The title "The Gun on the Wall" refers to a dramatic principle articulated by Anton Chekov as a metaphor about guns on stage. The statement goes, "If there is a gun on the wall in the first act, it has to have gone off by the third act." It teaches authors the importance of properly using foreshadowing (something used often in Middlesex) and the importance of keeping narrative simple. In Middlesex, Cal uses this principle playfully, alluding to it several times at the presence of different guns - the gun Milton uses during the Detroit riots, the gun on the wall in the Object's vacation home - but ultimately those guns are red herrings (false clues) - the playful defiance of Chekov's rule). Those guns are not "the gun" of the narrative, the "gun" is Cal's "crocus." That is what has been alluded to for the entire book and, when the tractor hits the oblivious Cal, that "gun," a doubly traditional symbol of masculinity, is ready to be fired.