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Middlesex | Motifs

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Mythological Hermaphrodites

Jeffrey Eugenides alludes to classical Greek characters, Tiresias and Hermaphroditus. They are truly hermaphroditic characters, embodying both maleness and femaleness. This is a contrast to Cal/Callie's psuedohermaphrodism. Both Tiresias and Hermaphroditus were transformed into hermaphrodites; the narratives behind both transformations are controversial—there is no universally agreed upon story for either character. Cal's story is also murky; his memories, prefetal and beyond, are questionable, iterative. The use of the classical hermaphrodites concretizes Cal's experience in a larger narrative, while at the same time alluding to his never being wholly male, wholly female, or equally both.

Naming Conventions

Eugenides uses names to impart information about the characters that might otherwise be left unsaid. Desdemona is the tragic figure in playwright William Shakespeare's Othello. Her name means ill-starred. In the novel Desdemona spends most of her life waiting to die.

Elutherios means freedom. Unlike Desdemona, Lefty felt little compunction about upsetting societal norms and marrying his sister. He felt free to walk the streets of Detroit and Grosse Pointe, and he felt free to be optimistic.

Chapter Eleven is the section of U.S. law that deals with bankruptcy, and Cal offhandedly tells the reader that his brother destroys the family business. It must be assumed that his given name is something other than Chapter Eleven. However, Cal does not wish readers to know his brother's given name. Perhaps he is protecting his privacy, as he spills all of the other family secrets.

The Obscure Object never even gets a name. That Obscure Object of Desire is the name of a movie by Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel, and the name alludes to the absurdity of the film. "That was exactly how I felt, following my own Obscure Object as though I was carrying around a mysterious, unexplained burden or weight." Readers understand the Object only in relationship to Callie; she lacks the rich backstory that other characters, those that exist separately from Callie, are given. The name also is an inside joke between the author and a college friend, who had a mutual crush on a woman they referred to as the "Obscure Object," as Eugenides explained in an interview.

Calliope is the muse of epic poetry. It is no coincidence that Cal's given name, his female identity, is the inspiration for the grand gesture and the written word.

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