Course Hero. "Middlesex Study Guide." Course Hero. 24 May 2017. Web. 23 July 2018. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Middlesex/>.
Course Hero. (2017, May 24). Middlesex Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved July 23, 2018, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Middlesex/
(Course Hero, 2017)
Course Hero. "Middlesex Study Guide." May 24, 2017. Accessed July 23, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Middlesex/.
Course Hero, "Middlesex Study Guide," May 24, 2017, accessed July 23, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Middlesex/.
Exhorted her whole childhood on the need for purity, for Desdemona, silkworms represent purity: "To have good silk, you have to be pure," she says. When Desdemona gets to Ellis Island, her silkworms are confiscated; they are considered parasites and not allowed into America. Desdemona has married her brother; she is no longer pure, and it shows in her worms. They cannot even enter the new country.
The silkworms in the First Temple are a link to Desdemona's past and a reminder that her past exists for her in the present. She has in many ways remained the girl from the village; her English is never fluent, her superstitions remain fixed, and her understanding of politics is fixed in the past. The strands of silk lead her from past to present, and back again.
For the Muslim women studying sericulture (the production of silk and the rearing of silkworms for this purpose), the worms are transformative. They symbolize the Prophet's calls for self-reliance. As the worms metamorphose into cocoons, there exists the possibility for a metamorphosis for the humans as well. The worms represent the possibility of moving from oppression to emancipation. The death of the first batch of worms is an obstacle, and the purchasing of new worms is optimistic.
Throughout Middlesex hair is the outward manifestation of a character's inner conflicts. Desdemona enters the YMCA tent at Ellis Island with braids tied with mourning ribbons. She comes out "American" with no braids and a hat. Steadfastly refusing to cut her hair again until after her husband's death, she is refusing the "Americanization" that her shorter hair connoted. When, aged and mellowed, she finally cuts her hair, it is made into wigs for other people. Possibly, the family catches a glimpse of it on Betty Ford's head. The family has become so assimilated, so American, that Desdemona's hair sits atop the head of a former first lady.
Lina has American hair—with her bobbed and chestnut brown hairdo, she literally cut the Greek out of her hair. Her daughter, Tessie, inherits her father's black hair. When it gets oily, she wonders if she can smell him.
Milton grows a beard as The Zebra Room fails to express the things he can't say. The knots in the beard express Milton's tangled thoughts, the smell, his stress.
Cal, as Callie, grows her hair in a curtain to hide behind. The first indication of her virilization—of her maleness—comes in the hair that grows on her legs and face. Her hair screams "you're a boy," but no one notices. As she grows her hair, it intrudes on everything—it clogs the drains; it is ingested by her neighbor's cat; it ends up in food, in books, in eyeglass cases. But it hides her satyr's nose and her blemishes, and most of all, it hides her.
Cal, still part Callie as a man, luxuriates in the fact that he will never be bald; his genetics preclude him losing his hair in male patterned baldness. In Cal as an adult, his hair is a visible sign of his femaleness.
Photographs trigger memories, perhaps narratives, and they stand in for the events that they memorialize. In Middlesex photographs and their extensions, cinema and home movies, do exactly the opposite. Rather than symbolize the moment of their capture, they symbolize the ambiguity in memory, the subjectivity of history, and the discourse between the viewer and the image. The images may remain unchanged, but their meanings change regularly.
Cal is documenting his family's story. He is already "the most famous hermaphrodite in history," thanks to Dr. Luce's exhaustive studies. It is his image that is famous, however, not him. And the image, with its eyes blacked out and the text that confirms his femaleness, is Cal, but not the Cal that he is creating through storytelling. Cal's documentation is flawed; he admits to being an unreliable narrator, and readers can take his words as fact or myth. Photographic images are constructed, just as Cal constructs his story, and as authored text they are subjective.
In Middlesex the photography is an unreliable narrator. It tells its own truths. The photographs in their father's lingerie catalog that both Lefty and Desdemona sneak peeks at give brother and sister the same, if flawed, understanding of a woman's body and what makes it sexual.
Lefty, in sidelining in photographs, sells pictures of a fantasy as well. Scantily clad girls appealing to the "sultans of the open road" sell. The Mabels and Deloreses that Lefty poses are creating a fantasy. The documents, however, are of a time. They reflect a particular moment in history, a moment in which the car becomes a symbol of freedom and a man's ability to determine his own future, at least while sitting behind the wheel of a car.
Tessie sees Milton in newsreels, knowing that it is not Milton. She brings her anxiety to the movies and the newsreels become, for her, messengers. While she knows intellectually that Milton has not been shot for the big screen, emotionally, the images are so resonant, that she falls in love.
Cal uses home movies to tell his story. Dr. Luce uses the same movies to prove to his students and fellow researchers that Cal is a girl. Rather than symbolize a moment in time, the movies symbolize the ambiguity of history and personal narrative. Cal refers frequently to the photographs of himself that appear in Luce's research, with his face blacked out. The photos in Dr. Luce's textbook confirm Dr. Luce's vision of history.
Julie is a photographer, and Cal collects photos. She takes pictures of factories, but she doesn't document their production. Rather, her photos are of the stark, but ambiguous, outside—factory-scapes. The factories do not externalize the horrors for which they were built. It is in the transaction between the viewer and the photograph that that information is present or not present. Photography is as unreliable a documentarian as Cal; while the text or the image is immutable, the consumer of the text brings all of his or her life experiences to the consumption, changing the story at every view.