Literature Study GuidesMiddlesexBook 3 Chapter 17 Summary

Middlesex | Study Guide

Jeffrey Eugenides

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Middlesex | Book 3, Chapter 17 : Waxing Lyrical | Summary

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Summary

After church one day, Callie is stopped by her mother's hairdresser, who suggests that Callie wax her mustache. Callie isn't surprised that she's growing hair on her upper lip because, ancestrally, she hails from the "Hair Belt," where even women have dark hair growing on their upper lips.

Tessie says that Chapter Eleven is coming home for Christmas with a girlfriend. When Chapter Eleven had returned after his freshman year, he was a changed person. Cal observes, "Chapter Eleven ... went from science geek to John Lennon look-alike." He has told Callie he was taking acid.

The family wonders what he'll be like now that he is in his sophomore year. He walks around the house, taping the family and taking notes for his new major, anthropology. Chapter Eleven notices a change in Callie. Chapter Eleven's girlfriend Meg arrives. She is a Marxist and delights in challenging Milton.

Chapter Eleven and Meg attempt to talk to Callie about her sexuality, but Callie puts her fingers in her ears. Milton suggests a family vacation back to Greece. Chapter Eleven declines, saying he doesn't share Milton's values. Cal, in retrospect, thinks that Chapter Eleven began changing the day his draft number was decided by lottery because he was rebelling against the idea of fate.

Analysis

As if in a mystery novel, Eugenides drops clues about Callie's biological maleness that are not picked up by other characters. As Cal's intersex condition is actually at the forefront of the novel, it is the characters, rather than the readers, that are in for a surprise conclusion. Chapter Eleven seems to come close to an understanding, but the idea of his little sister being anything other than his little sister is too difficult to comprehend, and he drops it.

The tension in the Stephanides household is a microcosm of the tensions in the larger society in 1973. Disquisitions on wealth and materialism were in vogue. Rebellion against the establishment, including parents, was still fomenting at universities all over the country. Chapter 11 is following a tried-and-true recipe for rebellion—finding an inappropriate partner and bringing her to meet his family, knowing that she will argue with his father.

Meg, with her overt sexuality and her light brown hair, is as far from Grosse Pointe and as far from being Greek as Chapter Eleven could get. She appears only in this chapter and is emblematic of Chapter Eleven's distance from the family. There is no need for her to continue in the narrative. Readers know that Chapter Eleven is searching for something that is not like what he knows.

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