This paper reflects the research and thoughts of a student at the time the paper was written for a course at Bryn Mawr College. Like other materials on Serendip, it is not intended to be "authoritative" but rather to help others further develop their own explorations. Web links were active as of the time the paper was posted but are not updated.

Contribute Thoughts | Search Serendip for Other Papers | Serendip Home Page

The Story of Evolution, Spring 2005 Third Web Papers On Serendip

Determination of Self: Predetermined or Socially Created?

Jennifer Gerfen

Within the story of Middlesex is the struggle for the determination of identity. A need for Cal Stephanides to come to terms with his ambiguous gender, due to the fact that he is a pseudo-hermaphrodite. Between the genetic basis for the condition that caused the pseudo-hermaphroditism and fact that Cal was raised as the wrong gender allow for room to play with the way that people develop an identity. The story is one where Eugenides is attempts to express the conflict of an individual's personality with a biologically predetermined gender; however, the world of Middlesex relies entirely on predetermined genetic traits and events.

The story begins with the notion of Cal as personality of being predetermined. The invocation of the muse in the style of the proem of Homer speaks of the mutation of the gene for 5 alpha-reductase. This sets the stage for the story by summarizing the ideas that will be portrayed throughout the book. The proem describes the traveling of the gene from Greece to the United States, instead of describing the journey of Lefty and Desdemona, as the main body of the story does, showing the importance of the gene in the determination of who Cal is.

As Cal breaks out of the proem there is another reference to the genetic component shaping the person he has become: an apology for being Homeric, which happens to be genetic. This is bringing the idea of heredity to preferences in literature which is usually considered to be a product of social background rather than encoded in the DNA. This goes on to continue the importance given to genetic influence in terms of personal identity. If traits that are do not have specific genes associated with them, then it stands that other facets of personality are determined by through genetic terms.

The idea of predetermination is furthered shown through the image of the egg sacs floating on rafts, which is constantly contrasted random assortment of genes. This idea plays out that Cal was sitting on his raft next to Chapter Eleven, waiting to be born. This idea of Cal existing as himself for eternity, waiting to be born, does not allow for the random union of egg and sperm, which allows for some of the variability in the human species. The act is even documented by Cal as being determined by the biology gods, who are acting for their own amusement and allowed the proper egg and sperm to fuse. This whole process deviates from the normal method of fertilization, though useful in the storytelling style it does not allow for a person to develop their own personality on their own but rather each people exists as themselves.

The determination of Cal's gender was completely based on predetermined factors, or rather his knowledge of the factors. As Cal grew up as Callie she never questioned her knowledge of gender. The only time she questioned it was when she had sex with Jerome, but even then the narration was vague as to whether the realization occurred at the time or whether it was insinuated when looking back on the event since Callie never remembered it again. Callie was allowed to grow up as a female and develop with social influences rather than a predetermined genetic gender. All of Cal's thought processes and patterns of behavior were inherently female based on the way he had been raised.

The real stimulus that initiates the gender change is Cal's realization that he is in fact a pseudo-hermaphrodite. It was only this knowledge of Dr. Luce's report that led to the female to male conversion. It was as though it was predetermined that Cal was male, and had been only living in the delusion that he was female. He had never truly understood what was going on and did not truly exist as himself until he was told. The story read, not as a discovery of a new aspect of a Cal, but rather a rebirth of an entirely different person, who was not quite shaped by the experiences thus far in his life. There is an attempt at the end in Cal's thoughts that he was still his mother's daughter, although now male, since he fulfills the role of a daughter. Though, this contradicts the earlier notion of Cal's that Callie still managed to reappear every so often accidentally, further implicating a complete conversion into an entirely different person.

Cal was a person who grew up without a fixed gender, and yet through managed to conform entirely to the biological gender which was determined through chromosomal activity. The purpose of the book was an odyssey to discover self, however, rather than the end being determined by the journey the end was determined based on biological findings.

| Course Home Page | Forum | Science in Culture | Serendip Home |

Send us your comments at Serendip

© by Serendip 1994- - Last Modified: Wednesday, 02-May-2018 10:51:46 CDT