Literature Study GuidesMiddlesexBook 2 Chapter 9 Summary

Middlesex | Study Guide

Jeffrey Eugenides

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Middlesex | Book 2, Chapter 9 : Clarinet Serenade | Summary

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Summary

In the present Cal takes Julie out on a first date, which goes well because she is not "husband hunting."

In the past it is now 1944 and World War II rages on. With Prohibition over, Lefty now manages The Zebra Room as an aboveground bar, and he has assimilated into American culture.

Tessie hears Milton playing the clarinet; he is serenading her, to Desdemona's dismay. Not only did they grow up together, but also, they are close cousins. Desdemona starts bringing marriageable girls to their house to meet Milton in order to break up the increasing intimacy between him and Tessie. But Milton simply keeps playing his clarinet.

Cal recounts the courtship of his parents, observing, "Is there anything so incredible as the love story of your own parents?" He muses that he can hardly imagine his father in love because Milton was aroused "mainly by the lowering of interest rates."

Desdemona, aware that Milton is falling for Tessie, sets her sights on Michael Antoniou—Father Mike—for Tessie. Milton grows jealous of Tessie and Mike, and when Tessie agrees to marry Mike, Milton joins the navy as the primary action of World War II turns to the Pacific.

Analysis

In recounting events that occurred before either of his births, Cal is blessed with omniscience. It is in this chapter, when describing the courting of his mother by his father, that readers may wonder if he was blessed with this omniscience as a child. Children, as evidenced in Milton's "Where's my mom? She never goes anywhere," don't necessarily know their parents. Milton's parents are sister and brother; he is Tessie's cousin both on his mother's and father's side, and yet he doesn't know it. He never notices a resemblance in his parents and if he does, he doesn't remark upon it.

Cal adds a detail about Tessie's skin: she burns easily. It is surprising that she burns—it comes up later in the narrative as well. As Jimmy Zizmo's daughter, she should be less prone to burning. It gives a reader pause; Cal is not a reliable narrator. Could Zizmo's suspicions have the faintest bit of truth to them? Or is this another example of the destiny predicted by genetics? Skin color is polygenic—it comes from many genes. Tessie's light skin harkens back to Fard's description of the evil Yacub-designing people to be paler and paler.

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