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anorton's picture

Patriarchal language

My first post on Middlesex concerned the seemingly un-gendered voice of the narrator. Having read further, I still have difficultly pinning down obviously masculine or feminine parts of the narration; however, there have been several parts in which language is directly related to gender.

Cal writes, "Maybe the best proof that the language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling" (217). At first, I fully accepted this statement. I am bothered, though, by Cal's automatic assumption that feelings are part of the women's sphere. On the one hand, it is great to recognize that the (English) language excludes or makes difficult to express what supposedly makes up a large part of a woman's world; on the other, the statement perpetuates the cultural stereotype that men don't have, or at least shouldn't express, feelings. It further implies, by the word "oversimplifies," that men are incapable of understanding feelings on the level that women can and do. It is exactly this sort of notion that encourages men to persist in this stereotype.

Just pages later, Cal recalls, "Chapter Eleven's apparatus was called a 'pitzi.' But for what I had there was no word at all" (226). I am curious to know whether there was truly no word in the Greek language by which to name female genitalia to a young child, or whether there was simply no talk of female sexuality in Callie's home. This example is more demonstrative of "patriarchal language" in that it deliberately and effectively prohibits young Callie from describing a part of herself. It is akin to 1984's Newspeak: if people are prevented from talking about politically-undesirable topics, they eventually are unable to conceive of them at all.

The whole notion of patriarchal language is called into question by Lefty's inability to speak: "The only person who didn't say something was Lefty, because in all the confusion he couldn't find his chalkboard" (238). What does it mean when the oldest male figure in the house, in the family, who is generally thought to be the patriarch, literally loses his voice? In weaving this story, has Cal/Eugenides tried to attenuate the patriarchal language by narrating in a relatively un-gendered manner and by calling into question the power of men to use the language that ostensibly belongs to them?

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