Study Guide

Miltiades "Milton" Stephanides and Theodora "Tessie" Zizmo Stephanides in Middlesex

By Jeffrey Eugenides

Miltiades "Milton" Stephanides and Theodora "Tessie" Zizmo Stephanides

Be Careful What You Wish For

Cal's parents couldn't decide whether they wanted a boy or a girl. They wanted both and, well, they got what they asked for with Cal. Kind of.

We've talked a lot about Cal, but Middlesex is also the story of Milton and Tessie, whom we watch grow up in Detroit in the mid 1900s. Milton is described as a "Brylcreemed Orpheus" (2.5.23)—yet another Greek reference to add to the pantheon of them in this book—and is surprisingly romantic and seductive. Despite the fact that he and Tessie are first cousins, their courtship is really sweet. Unfortunately, Tessie turns down Milt's affections, and he enlists in World War II.

There is an interesting parallel between Milton and Cal that neither man consciously picks up on. Both of them left their parents through a letter: Milton when he went to war, and Cal when he fled to the West Coast.

Mother Knows… Not Anywhere Close to Best

With Milton gone, Tessie ends up briefly engaged to Michael Antoniou, but the whole relationship is a lie. Every week Tessie sends Mike letters brimming with falsehoods. You've heard of sealed with a kiss... these letters are sealed with lies.

As you can probably guess, things work out and Milton and Tessie reunite. They have two children, Cal and a brother we only know as Chapter Eleven. Once the story's focus fixates on Cal, Milton, and Tessie kind of become caricatures of themselves.

Despite being the same gender as her daughter (or at least thinking so for fifteen years) Tessie is super prudish. "She never spoke openly about sex. She never undressed in front of [Calliope]. She disliked dirty jokes or nudity in movies" (3.4.80). Do you think a mother would really never notice her daughter's unusual genitals when the girl is a baby? Well, Tessie doesn't notice, and because of her prudishness, it takes Cal a good forty years to come to terms with his unusual body.

Men, Men, Men, Men, Manly Men

Tessie's a little emotionally distant, but Milton is physically distant. The men in this family have a habit of separating themselves from their spouses and children, and Milt is no different. Cal observes that Milton "began to leave a little more of himself at the diner each day, so that the man who returned to us seemed less and less present, a kind of robot" (3.1.38). Oh goodie.

Milton is also very traditional. He likes having two kids, particularly a son and a daughter, and he likes hearing the noun "daughter" being used to describe Calliope when she's going through her gender identity crisis (to put it mildly). Tessie feels similarly. She "note[s] the change at once. Daughter. [Dr. Luce] had said "daughter" (4.2.8).

Sadly, it's Milton's traditional bravado that gets him killed. After being blackmailed by his brother-in-law, he decides to chase him down in a high-speed car chase through the streets of Detroit. He's a little blinded by testosterone (we always heard that that would make you go blind…), and he ends up killing himself in a huge pile-up on a bridge. Cal is sad, of course, but he's also kind of relieved. He didn't believe that his father's traditional values could ever reconcile with Cal's gender, which is about as far from traditional as you can get.