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The Story of Evolution, Spring 2005
Third Web Papers
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Cal vis-a-vis Tiresias: The Evolution of a Character

Kelsey Smith

"Middlesex" begins with Cal saying that he was born twice, first as a girl and then as a boy. He later claims that he is like Tiresias because his gender was "first one thing and then the other (p. 3)." In connecting himself with Tiresias, Cal is indicating an evolutionary link between "Middlesex" and Ovid's "Metamophoses." This assertion implies two questions that need to be addressed: the first being 'How similar is Cal to Tiresias?'; the second, 'How are these differences significant in reference to the evolution of the storytelling process?'

The root of Cal's gender confusion occurs when he compares his own life and phenotype with that of his classmates. This proves especially problematic when his classmates develop breasts and waits patiently for her own set to exist, but none ever materialize. Instead, she gets pain in her nipples that lasts for a brief period of time before disappearing completely. Her lack of assimilation with her classmates makes her too uncomfortable to shower after gym class. The issue of menstruation proves equally problematic because it also never occurs for Cal. He resolves this issue by pretending to have cramps after his mother fervently prays for her daughter to have a period. Though faking menstruation effectively pacifies Tessie, it does nothing to resolve Cal's confusion about his sense of self.

Tiresias, by contrast, was born with a fully functional male body. Since he existed as such, he had no reason to question his sexuality or to view his body as deviating from that of other men. He existed as such until he was a young man. Then, he saw two snakes mating. Tiresias responded by hitting them both with a stick, an action that resulted in him being transformed completely into a female. He exists as such for seven years. During this time, he marries and has children.

By not imitating the general form of Tiresias's first stage of sex alteration, Cal asserts himself as a distinctly different situation in two different ways. Tiresias actually changes his sex, an action that Cal cannot imitate. Second, Tiresias goes from male to female, but Cal goes from female to a female with gender confusion. The result is that a significant deviation exists from the essential traits that define Tiresias to arrive at the ones that define Cal.

Cal's second change occurs when she visits Dr. Luce. He determines that though Cal was raised female, she is biologically male, but he lies about his findings to Cal's parents. Cal's response is to leave his former life behind and assume the appearance and lifestyle of a man to the extent that this is possible and abandons his life as if he had never been a female before.

The situation for Tiresias is distinctly different from Cal's. After living as a female for seven years, Tiresias stumbles upon another pair of mating snake. As before, she responds by bopping them. He becomes a man once more. As a consequence of the events that took place, Tiresias is asked by Zeus and Hera to declare which sex experienced more pleasure while engaging in sexual intercourse because each of them believed that it was the other gender. Tiresias confirmed that Zeus was correct in saying that females experience more pleasure. Though Tiresias was made blind by Hera, he was also given the gift of prophesy by Zeus.

Again, the situations are dissimilar for Cal and Tiresias. Tiresias experienced the actual change in gender a second time. Cal, by contrast, experiences a gender change only in the figurative sense. With blindness, also, Tiresias experiences real blindness, and Cal is blind only in the sense that he was raised lacking comprehension about why heŚas a femaleŚwas unlike his classmates who did not lack the ability to go through puberty.

"Middlesex" is useful as an example of a story that evolved because Cal exemplifies a way that one character can be imitative of another, even if the traits that exist in Tiresias are not completely reproduced in Cal. The similarities that do exist provide a way of reading the story of "Middlesex," without giving away all the details of the original story. The existence of the stories validates calling the new story an evolved version of the original text, rather than a completely new story.


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