Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
The book entitled, “Middlesex” is written by Jeffrey Eugenides and is a fiction novel about a hermaphrodite who spent the first 14 years of his/her life as a girl and then thereafter lived his/her life as male. He/She was, as a girl, called Calliope, and henceforth came to be known as simply Cal the day he/she decided to be a man. The book relates all the ceremonious events that happened before Cal’s/Calliope’s birth. It covers the history of his/her family, the members of his/her family and how they lived their lives.
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His/Her having lived his/her younger years as a girl was in a big way pushed for by his/her parents. With Chapter Eleven, his/her elder brother, having been born years earlier, both his/her father and mother wanted for their second child a girl. His/Her mother was looking forward to doing things that she could do only with a daughter coming along with her or taking her side. In general, she wanted another member of the family to be counted as a second female to tip the scales in favor of the women in the family – as opposed to the picture created by a family with two sons, which would have established her as the only female with not much say in the family decisions to be made, both in big and small matters.
The day he/she left her family and turned his/her back on his/her life as a 14-year-old girl was narrated in the story. He/She then was brought by his/her parents to the doctor and it led to his/her knowing that as a lady, he/she would never be able to give birth to a baby or to have a family. Knowledge of this triggered in Cal/Calliope the resolve to not anymore live life as a girl but to instead become a young man. After all, there have always been two sides of himself/herself: the outer female side and the inner male side, which rather prevailed as manifested by his/her attraction toward a girl he/she met in school.
Selected Themes of the Book
The book centered on a Greek family living in America. There was plenty of material that covered the family as the people that mostly dominate one’s every day, and the role of the family members in one’s life – both immediate and extended family. The book initially centers on Cal/Calliope as a girl. Thus, it covers his/her issues, fears, questions, excitement and doubts as an adolescent girl trying to fit it, moreso with the predicament that singles him/her out as a special case.
Above all, the book covers the complication of having no unquestioned identity. While there were raised eyebrows at the sight of Cal/Calliope’s physique that rather was not normal of females, he/she stuck to being the girl that his/her parents wanted him/her to be for as long as he/she could. The influence of parents in the life of their children is illustrated somehow by the story of Cal/Calliope.
But being free to be one’s true self triumphs as a foremost need or want in life. It comes next to knowing one’s self. Thus the complication of Cal/Calliope’s case is haunting; he/she is a hermaphrodite, a rare – if not unique – sort of a person. He/She exhibits the physical properties of a person of both the male and female genders, but he/she lives in a world where to be both presents big complications. Thus, the choices, decisions and moves that Cal/Calliope had to make were difficult, indeed, until it was made simple by the loss of something he/she valued, like the thought of one day getting married and raising his/her own kids.
My Point of View
There is beauty in being part of a closely knitted family. Somehow, the story is a lot richer because Cal/Calliope had a family who clung to being a solid family through the years. There was support and love for Cal/Calliope – and it was the kind that made them want to protect him/her for as long as they could from the realities of life. The desire of Cal’s/Calliope’s parents to have a girl for their second baby lent bias to their decisions and manner of bringing up their second child. The natural inclination of parents to automatically decide for their kids came to play. It does not matter whether the kids are too young to make decisions for themselves or they are old enough to understand things – parents have their innate tendencies to make decisions in behalf of their children.
The confusion that Cal/Calliope must have gone through during those growing years of his/her life would touch the reader. It is understandably not easy to be not normal, to be a freak. We all see how they are treated and how they mostly end up in circuses where they are watched, made fun of and toyed with. Cal/Calliope was one of them, in a way. He/She must have felt alone, especially when it seemed that his/her parents did not so much seem to think of him/her predicament as a real serious one. His/Her having lived his/her earlier years as a girl is a proof of his/her obedience to his/her parents’ wishes and his/her submission to their will. Born of parents who wanted him/her to be a girl, Cal/Calliope simply accepted that he/she was a girl with a complicated predicament.
Still, a strong resolve to be obedient and to please one’s parents cannot always be enough to make a person submit himself to his parents’ decisions and consequences thereof. Thus, Cal/Calliope decided to run away and to live a new life as an adolescent boy when an incident at the doctor’s office turned out to be the last straw - Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides introduction. Having belonged to a family that stayed together through thick and thin, Cal/Calliope naturally dreamed of having a family of his/her own one day. He/she probably went as far as thinking of the kind of a parent he/she wanted to be and of the kind of childhood that he/she wanted his/her kids to have.
The book also covers the rich history of the members of the family, the places they have been to and the episodes of life – happy and sad – that they have been through. It reminds the reader of how beautiful and unique life is, and how true it is that there is always something to be appreciated in every person. The grandmother’s prediction that Cal/Calliope would turn out to be a boy, the uncle’s habit of drinking Pepsi soda after meals, the love story of Cal’s/Calliope’s father and mother and other aspects of the book wove together an interesting story that makes the reader grateful to be alive – and normal.
We take a lot of things for granted. I realize I seldom express gratitude for the gift of life and of being the person that I am. The book, “Middlesex” alerts the reader to the reality that some people’s lives are more complicated than those of others. Through all dilemmas, however, there are always solutions; if not solutions, then there always is the better side of things somehow. But these complications are best dealt with when one knows himself – who he is, what his purposes and goals in life are and what makes him really happy. The answers to these questions are what we all ought to be after. Whatever other people may have to say is secondary.
Even the light and funny way it was depicted in the story that we all start as genes or as sperms waiting for the opportunity to be born as babies leads to the fact that we are lucky to be alive. It again reminds us to live life to the fullest. So many “what if” questions then arise like, “What if I never made it and was never born?”
Eugenides, Jeffrey. Middlesex. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux under license from Pan Books Limited. 2002.