Literature Study GuidesMiddlesexBook 1 Chapter 3 Summary

Middlesex | Study Guide

Jeffrey Eugenides

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Middlesex | Book 1, Chapter 3 : An Immodest Proposal | Summary



Lefty and Desdemona agree to go to Smyrna, where they encounter Dr. Philobosian, who has a letter from Mustafa Kemal guaranteeing him and his family safe passage. He gives some money to Lefty. Lefty gambles the money and wins. But at the ticket office, he is told that the price has gone up. Lefty no longer has enough money. Thousands of Greek and Armenian Christian refugees lose hope when Smyrna is set afire. Sure of death, Desdemona agrees that if they escape, she'll marry Lefty. Lefty manages to get French visas for himself and Desdemona when an official is willing to look the other way. They claim Dr. Philobosian as a cousin for a third ticket because the doctor found his family murdered—his letter useless because the soldiers were illiterate.


The fire that destroys Smyrna also allows Lefty and Desdemona to reinvent themselves. It is at some cost, however. The cosmopolitan city of beauty, language, and celebration is gone forever. Cal's description of Smyrna is in contrast to his description of Detroit in later chapters.

The chromosomal abnormality that needs both a male and female carrier to proclaim itself in a condition is given a break with a French consular official who is amused by Lefty's phrase-book French and extravagant lies. The story naturally would have ended in the burning of Smyrna, had a more dour or exhausted or rule-bound consular official been at the desk when Lefty reached the end of the line.

The chapter title, "An Immodest Proposal," refers to the text A Modest Proposal written by Jonathan Swift in 1729; it is a satirical essay suggesting that the poor Irish eat their own children both to alleviate their poverty and their hunger. Lefty and Desdemona deciding to marry is equally absurd. The term immodest refers to the sexual part of their relationship.

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