Literature Study GuidesMiddlesexBook 1 Chapter 4 Summary

Middlesex | Study Guide

Jeffrey Eugenides

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Middlesex | Book 1, Chapter 4 : The Silk Road | Summary



Lefty and Desdemona board a ship bound for America, bringing Dr. Philobosian along with them. Lefty and Desdemona pretend they met for the first time on the ship to hide that they are brother and sister. The ship's captain marries them.

They do not agree on what to do once they reach America. Desdemona wants Lefty to follow their parents' dream for him, to become a professor. She wants nothing more than to build a cocoonery. Lefty assures Desdemona that their cousin Sourmelina, their sponsor, will understand their relationship. Lefty hints at what the reader learns later, that Sourmelina is a lesbian and left Bithynios under a cloud.

They arrive in New York and see the Statue of Liberty. Desdemona is heartened by the Statue of Liberty, hoping that this symbol's being a woman means that there will be less killing in their new land.

The chapter title, The Silk Road, refers to the ancient trade routes that crisscrossed Eurasia, allowing for cultural and material exchanges. The Chinese traded silk on these roads; while they held a monopoly on its production, they traded it for goods and services abroad. Desdemona tries to bring her silkworms to America, making their voyage on a modern silk road. The Stephanides are crossing the ocean, participating in a cultural exchange of their own.


Lefty understands that anything he pretends to be in America, he will be. He is happy to reinvent himself, to throw off the ambitions of his parents. He discourages Desdemona from starting a cocoonery; he wants her to feel the freedom to reinvent herself as well. Desdemona feels guilt during the day when she thinks about what they have done. Lefty may feel guilt, but he is more inclined to feel excitement. He enjoys the planning and the newness of his situation.

Eugenides jumps in time and tense as Cal muses about the silkworms. Cal, ostensibly the author of his tale, suggests that the silkworm and its long thread is a metaphor for the unraveling of his story, for his grandmother's insistent ties to her old life, and for the two textbooks that reside among Lefty's scanty provisions in his suitcase.

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