Literature Study GuidesMiddlesexBook 3 Chapter 18 Summary

Middlesex | Study Guide

Jeffrey Eugenides

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Middlesex | Book 3, Chapter 18 : The Obscure Object | Summary

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Summary

Since Chapter Eleven's departure, the atmosphere at home is tense. Callie finds solace at school. Tessie is nervous that something is wrong with Callie, who is now 14 but still hasn't gotten her period.

Callie is taking an advanced English class that she loves. It is small and intimate, with only five girls in the class. One day a new student joins the class, a freckled redheaded girl. Callie is fascinated by her. As an adult, revisiting the relationship in his head, Cal names her the Obscure Object, after the Luis Buñuel movie, That Obscure Object of Desire. Callie develops a crush on the Object and tries to understand the nature of her crush. She seeks refuge in the basement bathroom of her school.

In the bathroom Callie explores what she refers to as her "crocus." What she assumes is her labia grows when she thinks of the Object. Her crocus gives her pleasure, but there are times that she understands that there is something a little different about the way she is built.

The advanced English class plans to perform the play Antigone. Callie practices her lines with the Obscure Object, and the two become friends. The play opens, but one of the student actors has an aneurysm and dies onstage. The Obscure Object runs offstage and into Callie's arms for comfort. A wave of happiness comes over Callie.

Analysis

Once again, Eugenides changes his voice to the second person, albeit briefly. "I can feel you out there, reader." Cal talking to the reader makes the story more intimate, as he desires it to be.

Cal mentions his "apolitical temperament." He does not politicize the present, but the very act of writing is political. The choices that he, the narrator, make in storytelling are political. If he is really apolitical, then he would not recount the story of the Detroit riot as guerrilla warfare, or suggest that politics is what kept Johnson from sending federal troops (Chapter 13). It is within the intersex community that Cal is not political. He admits as much, afraid of becoming "one of them." By suggesting that he is "apolitical," Cal once again reinforces the idea that he is an unreliable narrator. At best, in this case, he is not picking up the clues that he has dropped in other chapters of the book.

Callie's thawing crocus is the first time readers are introduced to Callie's genitals in working form. Callie has long been aware that her crocus is different from other girls, but since it is part of her body, she never thinks to ask. However, she is becoming increasingly aware that her feelings for the Object are sexual rather than platonic. Her crocus has responded to pressure before; now it is responding to another human being.

Eugenides uses the death of a young girl to thrust the Object into Callie's arms. Her happiness is noteworthy, as her classmate has just died. In a later chapter her mother will recall the look on Callie's face when she sees her comforting the Object.

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