Literature Study GuidesMiddlesexBook 2 Chapter 5 Summary

Middlesex | Study Guide

Jeffrey Eugenides

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Middlesex | Book 2, Chapter 5 : Henry Ford's English Language Melting Pot | Summary

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Summary

At Ellis Island, Desdemona's hair is cut, her kerchief is exchanged for a floppy hat, her dress is traded for a drop-waist "American" dress, and her cocoons are confiscated as parasites. Dr. Philobosian is removed from the line, possibly because he is ill, and the others lose track of him. Lefty and Desdemona take a train to Detroit to meet their first cousin Sourmelina, nicknamed Lina, who has become Americanized. Lina agrees to keep their sibling relationship a secret. Lefty and Desdemona meet Jimmy Zizmo, Lina's husband, who is much older and dark skinned like a Turkish person. Lefty and Desdemona move in with Jimmy and Lina, paying rent.

Lefty begins work at a Ford factory, joining an assembly line of men performing a single task repeatedly for the entire workday. One night a pair of inspectors for the Ford Sociological Department come to the house. They ask about hygiene, inspect the linens, and suggest a new way to brush teeth. They are alarmed to find that Lefty and Desdemona are boarders because Mr. Ford prefers his employees to obtain mortgages. They suggest that the house is unclean and that there is too much garlic in the food. They let Lefty know that no one receives full pay from Ford (five dollars a day) unless he and his family are deemed worthy of such pay.

At the graduation pageant for the Ford English School, attended by Mr. Ford himself and 2,000 others, workers in their native garb descend into a giant, gray cauldron "emblazoned with the words FORD ENGLISH SCHOOL MELTING POT." Lefty, in his Greek dress, is one of them. As the orchestra plays "Yankee Doodle," the men emerge, now dressed in conservative blue and gray suits, waving American flags. Jimmy Zizmo is disgusted by the propaganda.

As the pageant ends, the inspectors from the Sociological Department approach Lefty. He is fired because of his association with Jimmy Zizmo, a man with a police record.

Lina announces that she and Desdemona are both pregnant.

Analysis

Desdemona's disgust at her haircut and her hat is the first opportunity for her to dig her heels in and refuse to change who she is. Desdemona prefers the familiar; she is bewildered by the changes. Her refusal to go to the grocery store is somewhat of a refusal to admit that she lives in America and is married to her brother. This is the chapter that roots this book firmly in America, turning the narrative into an American epic, with all of the hybridization that is called forth by the idea of an American story.

Lefty, on the other hand, is eager for transformation. Rather than anger at the implication that he is unclean and his food is unhealthy, he accepts the intimate ways in which Ford insinuates itself into his life; brushing his teeth, wearing deodorant and new blue suit, he feels like a "real American." Lefty presents an interesting paradox. He wants to be free of the constraints of traditional Greek society—with his jaunty suit and his French phrase book, he suggests this very early in his narrative. He is, however, willing to accept the homogenization of the Ford Motor Company and its prescriptions for his diet and hygiene—in short, he is willing to accept the confines of another culture. With his firing, the company, at the very least, allows Lefty to once more be in control of his transformation.

Jimmy Zizmo is proving to be enigmatic. His origins are unknown; he has been to Africa on a big game hunt—it is his zebra skin that will be the primary decoration of Lefty's speakeasy later in the narrative. He is abstemious as a whole, yet is clearly working outside the confines of the law. He gets Lefty the job and then he, more than Lefty, chafes at the paternalistic, assimilationist regulations of the company.

The pregnancy announcement pulls both Desdemona and Sourmelina in multiple directions. Their children will be American children and tie them irrevocably to each other and to their men.

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