This is one of the first novels I read after I finished my papers for my last classes as an undergraduate. I remember, because as I was reading, I had to fight to keep my bloodshot eyes open, and even reaching down to grab my cup of tea seemed like too much of an effort. So it was with heavily lidded eyes that I embarked into the world of Jeffrey Eugenides for the first time.
While it’s a reallllllyyyyy long book, this is well worth the read. A bilsdungroman of a Greek girl growing up in America that is placed side to side with her own family history, it outlines not only the American dream, but gender roles in particular. I’m always interested in these two ideas, because I think they are integral to the way our society is shaped in particular, and to hear it from someone who is as unique as Cal (the narrator/main character) is a treat indeed.
What does it mean to be a transgender person trying to live the American dream? Cal obviously demonstrates how his parents thought it was impossible; mid-way through the novel they discuss options for surgically removed Cal’s male-looking genitalia, in order to preserve the gender Cal grew up “acting”, which is female. But isn’t it interesting that Cal’s grandparents married one another, out of both sibling and sexual love, and also to make it easier for them to travel to America; to give themselves better opportunities in a safer place. But by enacting in a biologically and socially taboo practice, they endanger the lives of their future descendants. Which brings the question; can the American dream really be accomplished?
Like most bilsdungroman novels, there is obviously lots of adversary to be overcome by Cal and his family. The blending of two entirely different cultural ideas; of immigrant and hermaphrodite, into one narrative makes it necessary for us to see the two ideas as one. The introduction of a stranger to a settled land; outsiders coming into a place where they are seen as not belonging. The American dream has foundations in the idea that anyone can come and make a life for themselves; that no matter what you’re beginnings are, how rich or poor you are, what your lineage is; America is “the land of opportunity.”
But Middlesex overturns that idea; while Cal’s family is able to establish a decent living for themselves in America, it is at many high, hidden costs. Is the American dream really attainable? Even in this day and age, when we are supposedly so accepting and open, can people from different cultural backgrounds have the same opportunities, or can people of the LGBT community share in the same classic dreams? Only time will tell.