Study Guide

Middlesex Quotes

  • Fate and Free Will

    In that optimistic, postwar America [...] everybody was the master of his own destiny. (1.1.35)

    This isn't like being master of your own domain. Do you think Cal is being ironic here? How many people do you know whose lives have turned out exactly as they planned? Did your parents' lives turn out exactly as they thought they would?

    She appeared at church that one day and never again, and seems to have existed for the sole purpose of changing my mother's mind. (1.1.73)

    Cal is describing a girl his brother spilled hot coffee on. She could have changed their mother's mind in many ways: made her not want to have another boy, kept her from realizing how into her Father Mike still was, sent her to Dunkin Donuts on an emergency java dash… Who knows? Whatever happened, this was a small action that made huge ripples in the fates of many.

    [Desdemona] didn't envision her insides as a vast computer code, all 1s and 0s, an infinity of sequences, any one of which might contain a bug. (1.2.84)

    Even if Desdemona was thinking about DNA, she wouldn't even know what a computer was. Anachronism aside, this shows how much our DNA controls our lives. Are we pre-programmed for certain successes and failures because of our genes?

    "They couldn't read. They were illiterate! [...] They couldn't read my letter." (1.3.184)

    So many things set this book's events into motion. Dr. Philobosian has a letter of immunity, but the soldiers who come his house can't read it, so they kill his kids. With his family dead, he flees to America. There, he botches Cal's birth, and so on and so forth. How would things have been different if the Turkish soldiers has cracked a book every now and then?

    Great discoveries, whether of silk or gravity, are always windfalls. They happen to people loafing under trees. (1.4.1)

    This is a nicer way of saying that good things happen when you least expect them. Love. Happiness. Success. Winning Publisher's Clearing House…

    [Desdemona] kept waiting for something to happen, some disease, some abnormality, fearing that the punishment for her crime was going to be taken out in the most devastating way possible: not on her own soul but in the bodies of her children. (2.4.60)

    Wow—we're glad we don't have her as a grandmother. We're not too keen on paying for the sins of ancestors, but maybe that's something we all do anyway…

    Every Greek drama needs a deus ex machina. (2.6.88)

    Deus ex machina means "god in the machine," and it is pretty much a big ol' red flag that fate is on the way. Can you explain Milton's last-minute reprieve from death any other way?

    An aneurysm had burst in Maxine Grossinger's brain. (3.6.164)

    Yikes. Is it possible that Maxine Grossinger's sole purpose in life was to die on stage to bring Cal and the Object close together? That seems to be what Eugenides thinks by only showing us this brief, tragic moment in this unfortunately named girl's brief, tragic life.

    In the end it wasn't up to me. The big things never are. Birth, I mean, and death. And love. And what love bequeaths to us before we're born. (3.10.64)

    This is about as definitive of a quote as you can get about fate. Cal believes that certain things are beyond his control. We agree that you can't control birth or death (despite what Cher wants you to think as she gets older), but what about love?

    Free will is making a comeback. Biology gives you a brain. Life turns it into a mind. (4.5.5)

    What do you think Cal means here? Did people not have free will once upon a time, but now they do? Maybe we were meant to say this… maybe you shouldn't even think about it… the answer has been predetermined. We knew you'd be here reading this. And thinking about goats. (You're thinking about goats now, aren't you?)

    Fate or luck had brought me here and I had to take from it what I needed. (4.5.66)

    Okay, two things here: (1) A question: What's the difference between fate and luck? (2) A thought: This is a good combination of fate and free will, isn't it? Cal believes that fate (or luck) got him into the, ahem, sticky situation he's in, but he's going to use willpower to get out of it.

  • Gender

    I was born twice: first, as a baby girl [...] and then again as a teenage boy. (1.1.1)

    The very first line in the book pretty much serves as a road sign that says Fasten your seatbelts: Gender identity crisis ahead.

    "Women aren't like us. They have carnal natures. The best thing to do with them is to shut them up in a maze." (2.2.48)

    Seriously, guys, what the heck is Jimmy Zizmo talking about here? Isn't he the one always pressuring Lina for sex? What does he mean 'shut them up in a maze'?

    [Lefty] reinstituted sex segregation in the house, reserving the sala for his male companions and banishing Desdemona to the kitchen. (2.3.35)

    Jeez, with Lefty's strict reinforcement of gender roles, no wonder there's a huge fracture between him and Desdemona. "Woman, get me a sandwich," isn't exactly a romantic line.

    In the manner of women of her generation, [Desdemona] was practically an old woman. (2.5.31)

    Desdemona doesn't ever really change with the times. Do you know people like this, who are still wearing the neon fanny packs of the 1980s? Is this a bad thing, or should they learn to adapt?

    Right next to [Chapter Eleven], there's me, his sometime sister, my face already a conundrum, flashing like a lenticular decal between two images. (2.7.8)

    This is a perfect image to describe how Cal/Calliope straddles the line between two genders. It's a heck of a lot more interesting than your average Lisa Frank sticker.

    All was shrouded in a zone of privacy and fragility, where my mother never scrubbed me too hard. (3.1.42)

    The Stephanides family's Puritanical aversion to sex and gender only complicates matters for their daughter... er, son... er... um... see what we mean? It's important to check these things out early.

    I was aware that there was something improper about the way I felt about Clementine Stark. (3.3.118)

    This is the only time we hear of Clementine Stark, the girl whom Calliope shares her first kiss with. Children pick up on gender norms easily, and she can just feel that this same-sex relationship is "wrong"… at least compared to societal norms.

    During the growing months, quite a few of my schoolmates had -- as adults liked to say -- "developed." (3.4.73)

    This is a difficult time for Calliope. Being raised as a girl, she expects to, um, blossom at the same time the other girls do. But it doesn't happen that way. Since she is primarily male physiologically, she has to wait a while to experience her own special brand of puberty.

    Females pause and look for signs of agreement before continuing. Males just look into the middle distance and hold forth. Women prefer the anecdotal, men the deductive. (4.1.144)

    This is Dr. Luce's assessment of male vs. female thought processes and storytelling. Do you agree? How do you think Cal combines both of these viewpoints into one hermaphroditic body and mind?

    We're all made up of many parts, other halves. Not just me. (4.3.2)

    Cal is talking about how everyone lies somewhere on a spectrum between masculine and feminine. You might be a cowboy-hat wearing dude who likes wearing your grandmother's shoes every once in a while, or a ballerina who really enjoys wielding a sledgehammer. Cal believes that you should act however you want, without any regard to what society thinks people of your gender should do.

  • Family

    As they paced around the deck for the first time, Lefty and Desdemona were still brother and sister. The second time, they were bride and bridegroom. And the third, they were husband and wife. (1.4.46)

    This is a story that really redefines family (and twists the roots in a family tree). How does Lefty and Desdemona's relationship change as a result of their union? What kind of family do they create?

    "Marriage is for housekeeping and for children." (2.1.119)

    Jimmy Zizmo has a, how shall we say, traditional view of the family dynamic. He believes that he should bring home the bread and the woman should pop out children. It's no wonder Lina is kind of glad when he's gone.

    Because Lina was an exhibitionist, Tessie had become a voyeur. Because Lina was loud, Tessie had turned out quite. (2.5.61)

    Tessie seems to want to do everything the complete opposite way of her mother. What about you? How are you like your mother, and how are you different?

    All humankind has existed in miniature since Creation, in either the semen of Adam or the ovary of Eve, each person tucked inside the next like a Russian nesting doll. (2.7.7)

    We want to say something clever about this, but we can't get cleverer than Eugenides here. (We just used the word "cleverer" so we're scraping the bottom of the barrel.) All we have to add is, we are family.

    "Now we have to move in with Milton." (2.7.55)

    This family sticks together, even when they're to blame for each other's problems. Milton kicks Lefty out of the house, Lefty starts gambling and loses all his money, Desdemona and Lefty have to move in with Milton—these family problems go full circle.

    "You're a lot smarter than most of my sister's friends."

    "You're a lot smarter than most of my friends' brothers." (3.8.221-3.8.222)

    Calliope and Jerome's banter is playful bordering on flirty. We're pretty sure Calliope wishes she were flirting with the Object instead, but her brother will have to do. The family resemblance is uncanny. It's not quite John and Joan Cusack, but it's close.

    "Most guys wouldn't be so happy to find out that they'd been two-timed by a lesbian with their own sister." (3.10.106)

    Jerome clearly has a problem here, but what is it? Is he defending his sister? Is he homophobic? Is he still angry about his bad dye job? The issues are endless with this kid.

    Tessie was dreaming a family dream. A version of the nightmares Desdemona had after listening to Fard's sermons. (4.1.199)

    Maybe it's because Tessie and Desdemona are the women of the family, but they feel the weight of their family's problems on their shoulders. And boy, does the Stephanides family have problems. Tessie's deltoids must be super huge from holding all that weight up.

    I like to think that my father's love for me was strong enough that he could have accepted me. But in some ways it's better that we never had to work that out, he and I. (4.6.99)

    It's pretty sad that Cal has to rationalize this after his father's death. Do you think Milton ever would have accepted him? Maybe Milton's death was a good thing after all.

    "Call me whatever you want."

    "How about 'bro'?"

    "Fine with me." (4.7.33-4.7.35)

    Chapter Eleven treated Calliope like a brother anyway, so this change from calling her sister to brother doesn't really redefine the family. In fact, it might allow Chapter Eleven to behave more like himself around his "new" brother.

  • Sex

    At night, in their bedroom, [Desdemona had] seen her sleeping brother press against his rope mattress as though angry with it. (1.2.41)

    Um, let's just say Lefty isn't angry with his mattress. You see, sometimes a man and a mattress love each other very much... Okay, it's not love, it's the uncontrollable lust that comes with overflowing hormones at a young age. Lefty has a hard time keeping them to himself.

    [Desdemona] and Lefty are children again (except they have adult bodies). They're lying in the same bed (except now it's their parents' bed). They shift their limbs in sleep (and it feels extremely nice, how they shift, and the bed is wet) (1.2.84)

    Desdemona and Lefty are clearly lusting after each other here. The lust is manifesting itself in Desdemona's dreams. Why do you think she sees them as children? Is it because lust is such a primal emotion?

    [Desdemona] spread her legs. She opened her arms for Lefty, who twisted around, chafing his knees and elbows, dislodging oars, nearly setting off a flare, until finally he fell into her softness, swooning. (1.4.52)

    Woo! Now this is the love boat. Even the small space of a lifeboat cannot contain the passion between these two. We don't think anything could contain them at this point.

    Against [Desdemona's] will, the play had aroused her, too. The Minotaur's savage, muscular thighs. The suggestive sprawl of his victims. (2.2.11)

    What is turning Desdemona on here? The violence of it all? The strength of the minotaur? A farm animal fetish? All of the above?

    Plantagenet teased out all the harmonies, between a buttock's curve and a fender's, between corset and upholstery pleats, between garter belts and fan belts. [...] The days of the harem were over. Bring on the era of the backseat! Automobiles were the new pleasure domes. (2.4.73)

    Lusts change. America's fascination with automobiles borders on fetish. Think of all the car ads you see (the ones that don't feature Ron Burgundy). What's selling these cars?

    All love serenades must come to an end. (2.5.92)

    Yes, it says love but it's really talking about lust here. Milton's flute playing to Tessie is the ultimate in literary eroticism, but eventually that erotic spark dies out of a relationship. Is there anything that can keep it going? What's left when it's gone?

    Thanks to Dr. Phil's decrepitude and Tessie's prudishness, I arrived at puberty not knowing much about what to expect. (3.4.76)

    Lustful feelings go hand-in-hand with raging hormones. Unfortunately, Cal's family is pretty repressed when it comes to sexuality (you'd think a family made up of a brother-and-sister grandparents and first-cousin parents would be a little more open... ), so Cal has a difficult time coming to terms with the crazy soup of sexual feelings he's having as a teenager.

    Ecstasy. From the Greek Ekstasis. Meaning not what you think. Meaning not euphoria or sexual climax or even happiness. Meaning, literally: a state of displacement, of being driven out of one's senses. (3.9.162)

    Even though Cal rules out sexual climax in the definition of ecstasy, this is a pretty spot on definition of lust. Lust happens when your thought process gets driven out of your mind and you start thinking with your… other regions.

    "The guy's cock turns you on?" (4.1.162)

    Part of Cal's treatment with Dr. Luce involves watching porn with him. That's not like any therapy we've had. Luce seems to be measuring Cal's sexual attraction, but what Luce doesn't realize is that the gender Cal is attracted to has absolutely no bearing on what gender he himself actually is.

    In the Garden the atmosphere was exotic rather than raunchy. […] Viewers got to see strange things, uncommon bodies. […] There is no way to tell what percentage of the population dreams such dreams of sexual transmogrification. But they came to our underwater garden every night and filled the booths to watch us. (4.5.44)

    We're not sure what these people are lusting after here. A new identity? A unique sexual partner? Some sort of strange water fetish? It's probably not the last one, as they could all turn their taps on at home for free to get that fix. But really, what keeps people coming back to the Garden?

  • Love

    No one to love: no love. No love: no babies. No babies: no one to love. (1.2.75)

    A lack of love is a vicious cycle, and you might even say that love is what makes the world go around. At the very least, it keeps obstetricians in business.

    "I think love breaks all taboos. Don't you?" (1.4.39)

    This is a bold statement. How many taboos are broken in Middlesex? Heck, how many taboos are broken in the first chapter?

    Desdemona stepped forward again to meet her husband's lips. Their first kiss in the great American outdoors, on the back porch, near a cherry tree losing its leaves. (2.152)

    Ah, what a romantic moment. It's also tinged with sadness—cherry tree losing its leaves, eh? We're not sure if they're going to have this kind of romance ever again.

    Is there anything as incredible as the love story of your own parents? Anything as hard to grasp as the fact that those two over-the-hill players, permanently on the disabled list, were once in the starting lineup? (2.5.56)

    Face it, kids: Chances are decent your parents once loved each other, if only for a moment. What was their story? We want to know, and not just because we're filthy gossips, we swear. But really, tell us all the deets.

    Tessie couldn't concentrate. She kept thinking that if something happened to Milton, if he was wounded or, God forbid, if he didn't come back—she would be somehow to blame. (2.6.48)

    Is this love that she's feeling? Or is she feeling guilt over what she did to Milton? Are they two halves of the same coin?

    The Obscure Object and I met unawares, however, in blissful ignorance. (3.7.5)

    We're not sure if Cal ever admits that he loves the Obscure Object, but he totally does. That's the thing about love: it creeps up when Cal least expects it.

    I had the Obscure Object in my arms. (3.6.166)

    You've heard that love knows no bounds. Well, it clearly doesn't in Cal's case. Not only does love transcend death, love comes from death in this case. The love between the Object and Cal might never have happened if Maxine Grossinger hadn't dropped dead suddenly during the performance of Antigone.

    I was in love. Secretly, shamefully, not entirely consciously, but for all that quite head-over-heels in love. (3.8.19)

    Right before this line, Cal talks about rising tensions in Turkey in Greece. How is a girl supposed to fall in love when her home country is at war? Well, it happened with Cal's parents, remember? All is kind of unfair in love and war, because love waits for no one.

    I was only feigning squeamishness. In actuality I wouldn't have minded sharing the Object's toothbrush. I wouldn't have minded being the Object's toothbrush. (3.8.80)

    Now that's love: willing to be someone's toothbrush. We guess being someone's toothbrush can't really be all that more intimate than a good ol' French kiss, can it?

    "I like my life," [Cal] told [Desdemona]. "I'm going to have a good life." (4.7.187)

    Cal might as well say I love my life here. This is one of those you have to love yourself before you can love someone else moments. Cal has finally accepted who he is, and he's ready to love life and to love others.

  • Old Age

    At the age of forty-one, I feel another birth coming on. (1.1.4)

    Now, don't tell Madonna that we said forty-one is old (she's way over that hill, but still rocks it like a twenty-year-old). What we're illustrating here is the whole with-age-comes-wisdom cliché. From Cal's forty-one-year-old vantage point, he can accept his youth, and make space for that part of his identity to become a part of him currently instead of hiding from it.

    What's the reason for studying history? To understand the present or avoid it? (2.1.5)

    When you're an Old, you have to look back on your life and decide what to do with it. Do you accept it, or do you run from it?

    "I'm eighty-four hundred years old." (2.4.83)

    Wow! Desdemona looks damn good for her age. Okay, she's being metaphorical here, but what is she talking about? Do her joints just really hurt, or is she thinking about the past and everything about her life and the lives that have come before her?

    "Hey, Pop," his son called after him. "Why don't you take the day off? I can handle things here." (2.7.32)

    Milton wastes no time marginalizing Lefty as soon he gets control of the diner. It's both good and bad for Lefty—it gives him the freedom to revisit his youth, but he doesn't seem to bring his elderly wisdom with him, and ends up repeating old mistakes.

    "We hope for better things; it will rise from the ashes." (3.2.93)

    Okay, we mostly talk about old wrinkly people in this theme, but cities get old too. Countries get old. Ideas get old. Do you think that places go through the same sort of rebirth that people sometimes do as they get older?

    In his mind Lefty Stephanides grew younger and younger while in actuality he continued to age. (3.3.127)

    Lefty kind of pulls a Curious Case of Benjamin Button here, mentally regressing into his youth. Do you think there's a physiological reason for doing this, or that it's one of those life-flashing-before-your-eyes things happening in slow motion?

    [Desdemona] didn't like being left on earth. (3.4.1)

    Desdemona has a difficult time coping with, well, life in general when she gets to be as old as she is. (Late seventies, she says.) When you don't have any friends, and your husband is dead, how can you go on living?

    [Desdemona was] not a member of a band of immortals from Mount Olympus. Just the only member left alive. (3.4.88)

    Desdemona might just be the only link left to her village, which was practically eradicated by the Turks when she fled at the turn of the century. What knowledge will be lost when she finally dies?

    The last thing the hockey ball symbolized was Time itself, the unstoppability of it, the way we're chained to our bodies, which are chained to Time. (3.5.12)

    People aren't the only things getting old—the planet is getting old, and human civilization is getting old together. Notice that Eugenides capitalizes Time here. (This stunt was performed by a trained professional, kids, so don't try it at home… unless you have a really good reason.) We're all getting old together, every day.

    I hadn't gotten old enough yet to realize that living sends a person not into the future but back into the past, to childhood and before birth, finally, to commune with the dead. (4.2.2)

    No, all old people aren't psychics like Sylvia Browne. We think what Cal is saying here is something akin to with age comes wisdom. Or more specifically, perspective. Growing old gives Cal the opportunity to be more empathetic, and to put himself into the shoes of his ancestors and see how they lived. We wouldn't have this book without that perspective.

  • Mortality

    Because a person should never show vanity in the presence of death, Lefty stopped shaving and by the day of the funeral had grown nearly a full beard. (2.3.1)

    Death customs vary widely by culture and are always fascinating. We hope Jimmy died in November so that Lefty was already prepared for No-Shave November—might as well kill two birds with one stone. Oops. Did we say kill? Too soon?

    In my family, the funeral meats have always furnished the wedding tables. (2.5.84)

    What is it about funerals that makes people want to feel alive? Is it a touch of necrophilia (yeah, we went there—when you're talking about a book that has so much incest in it, nothing's off limits), or something else at work?

    As [Lefty's] mind continued to waver, to short-circuit, he finally arrived at the cold-eyed conclusion, so at odds with his youthful cheerfulness, that the brain was just an organ like any other and that when it failed he would be no more. (3.3.99)

    Boy this is harsh. As Lefty gets older, he pretty much stops believing in... anything. But especially not in an afterlife. Why do you think he gives up hope?

    "Pray for me to die," [Desdemona] instructed me. "Pray for yia yia to die and go be with papou." (3.4.4)

    Desdemona welcomes death because she thinks it will reunite her with her husband. This is quite the contrast with her husband's view. Before he died, he believed that was it—no afterlife, no nothing.

    Maxine Grossinger was already dead. (3.6.164)

    We don't see many people die on-page, as it were, in Middlesex. Maxine stands out because we're introduced to her around page 338 and she croaks on page 339. What gives? Why bring this girl into the narrative only to kill her off a page later? Why are you so cruel, Eugenides?

    My brother told me that there had been an accident and that Milton was dead. (4.5.126)

    Why do you think Cal refers to his father as "Milton" here? Is it shock over his death? Or is it because they weren't all that close in life?

    [Milton] learned to steer the flying car. (4.6.95)

    Milton's bizarre Chitty Chitty Bang Bang-esque flight over Detroit cannot be real, can it? We think it's a hallucination, one of those near-death things. Or maybe Cadillacs used to be a heck of a lot more exciting than they are today.

    [Milton] was crying not because he was about to die but because I, Calliope, was still gone, because he had failed to save me, because he had done everything he could to get me back and still I was missing. (4.6.96)

    Although Cal says this has nothing to do with dying, the fact is that if Milton hadn't died, he'd still have a chance at getting Cal back. Death is kind of final in that way.

    Did Calliope have to die in order to make room for Cal? (4.7.82)

    This is an interesting way at looking at Calliope's rebirth. Did Calliope die or does she still live on inside of Cal?

    "When I die, you can tell everything." (4.7.191)

    Desdemona's death makes this whole book possible, and the fact that we're reading it proves that the old woman died at some point. We guess that the Mediterranean diet isn't the secret to eternal life after all…

  • Wealth

    Historical fact: people stopped being human in 1913. (2.1.155)

    Henry Ford's factory didn't just revolutionize machinery, it revolutionized humanity by making them a part of the machine. The reason? To maximize profits, to turn people into components of the machine in order to make the most money. Just think of all the mechanical metaphors you've heard about working life, such as being a "cog." How many others can you think of?

    "We encourage our employees to obtain mortgages." (2.1.201)

    This sounds like a nice sentiment, doesn't it? We want you to have a house, a fence, 2.5 children. (What happened to the other half of that child?) But the motives behind this are nefarious—they want their employees to obtain mortgages because they're the landowners, which means they'll profit from the deal. These guys are monetizing the American dream.

    Like all expectant fathers, their thoughts turned to money. (2.2.26)

    Lefty and Jimmy are traditional guys. They think their main (and maybe only) responsibility as fathers is to make the dollah dollah bills. What are they missing out by making this their focus? What is their family missing out on?

    On Thursday, October 24, 1929, on Wall Street in New York City, men in finely tailored suits began jumping from the windows of the city's famous skyscrapers. (2.3.48)

    Losing wealth caused people to lose their lives. And by setting the story against the background, Eugenides shows us what a focus money was at this time. Too bad Donald Trump wasn't around back then...

    "We sell the silks right from the temple," Sister Wanda explained. (2.3.156)

    The Nation of Islam seems part religion and part business. Which do you think is the driving force?

    Meat began appearing less often on our dinner table. Milton rationed electricity. (3.2.15)

    Wealth. Sometimes you have it, sometimes you don't. During the Great Depression, it doesn't seem like anyone has it, not even the Stephanides family.

    "You life ain't you property?" (3.2.64)

    Non-standard grammar aside, this man named Morrison makes a good point. People will put their lives on the line to protect their property, whether it be money, a house, of stuff. Shouldn't they put more value on their lives?

    What can I say about my well-bred, small-nosed, trust-funded schoolmates? (3.5.21)

    Cal's boarding school experience shows us that, yes, money can buy education. These girls aren't good at anything other than inheriting their parents' dough.

    They were well stocked with gorp, bongs, pipes, vials of amyl nitrate, but understocked on towels, underwear, toothpaste. (4.4141)

    It's hard for a homeless person to get by, but it makes it difficult to justify giving them money (Cal watches them beg for change) when this is what they're spending their money on. We don't even know what half of that stuff is. (Seriously, though, what is gorp?)

    "How much is it worth to you to get your daughter back?" (4.6.43)

    It's hard enough to place a value on a human life, but when it's a member of your family it seems impossible. The blackmailer eventually decides on twenty-five Gs. Is Milton getting a bargain, or has Uncle Mike really oversold Cal's worth?

  • Race

    Jimmy Zizmo (shortened from Zisimopoulos) had come to America in 1907 at the age of thirty. (2.1.61)

    Immigrants were whitewashed beyond all recognition in the early 1900s, forced to shorten and change their names in an effort to appear more... what? American? Boring? We're not sure. Do you think this type of thing still happens today?

    Every evening at quitting time my exhausted grandfather would come out of the factory and tramp across to an adjacent building housing the Ford English School. (2.1.160)

    The Ford English school is another way to whitewash immigrants. Do you think other countries require immigrants to go to a school to learn their language? We can't imagine going to Holland and having to enroll in the Windmill Hollish School. They do speak Hollish there, right?

    The Zebra Room was a neighborhood place with irregular hours. (2.3.39)

    The Zebra Room is a big ol' symbol of race relations in Detroit. Or maybe it's just a nice bar to get some bootleg booze. But think about a zebra: The stripes are next to each other, but they don't blend. If they blended, there would be shades of gray. But zebras remain steadfastly black and white. Divided. Prison stripes. Hey, at least it makes a good print for handbags and shoes, right?

    "And then,"—hand to heart—"then they make me go to work for those mavros. Black people! Oh my God!" (2.3.49)

    Oh old people, with their silly views on race. Where do you think Desdemona's racism even comes from? It's not like she's ever interacted with a black person before.

    "Everybody mixed. Turks, Greeks, same same." (2.3.145)

    How much can you expand upon this? Have you traced your own lineage? You could be Turkish, Greek, Native American, and Vulcan for all you know.

    "YACUB KEPT ALL ORIGINAL BLACK PEOPLE FROM REPRODUCING. IF A BLACK WOMAN GAVE BIRTH TO A CHILD, THAT CHILD WAS KILLED. YACUB ONLY LET BROWN BABIES LIVE. HE ONLY LET BROWN-SKINNED PEOPLE MATE." (2.4.38)

    The booming voice of W.D. Fard sounds pretty bonkers, but do you think he might have a point? What do you think humans will look like in a thousand years (if we haven't torched the planet by then or been wiped out by a rogue meteor) as a result of inter-racial coupling?

    "They don't take care of their properties. They let everything go to hell." (3.1.80)

    Milton's views on black people manifest in a blanket statement (to say the least). Of course, this kind of blanket is more like the smallpox-contaminated blankets that the U.S. gave to Native Americans than the warm, fuzzy kind. This is a damaging generalization Milton makes here.

    The riots have begun... (3.2.21)

    Eugenides condenses years of racial tension and strife erupting into literal flames into four small words. It's kind of like if you're getting ready for the homecoming dance and you say, "I have a zit" except, you know, it's about something actually serious in this case.

    We were ready to accept the Negroes. We weren't prejudiced against them. We wanted to include them in our society if they would only act normal! (3.2.40)

    We don't think that the Stephanides family deviates too far from the norm by having this opinion at this time in history. Do you think the Stephanides family's opinion on race is typical of the time? Do you think it still exists today? Is there anything wrong with this viewpoint?

    "Because we're what's next." (4.5.73)

    This is Zora talking about how she believes that androgynous people will be the new wave of humanity. While this isn't quite a race, how are the struggles of being an intersex/hermaphrodite/androgynous person similar to those that the other minorities we've seen (Greek people, black people) go through?

  • Religion

    Jimmy Zizmo's soul wasn't at rest. After death, the souls of the Orthodox do not wing their way directly to heaven. They prefer to linger on earth and annoy the living. (2.3.7)

    Since Jimmy Zizmo didn't actually die, we see no evidence of his soul annoying the living. However, he sticks around in a different form to annoy the living in his own way... by starting a religious movement. So maybe there's some truth in this quote after all.

    The 'prophet' as he came to be known, confided his teachings to a recitation of his experiences in foreign lands, admonitions against certain foods, and suggestions for improving listeners' physical health. (2.3.152)

    This doesn't sound like much of a religion, until you start thinking of the Bible. How many ground rules does it lay for life? Only tons. And tons. Are you wearing a cotton/poly blend right now? Well... see you in hell, then.

    "The Church doesn't want people not to think," Michael replied without taking offense. "The Church believes that thinking will take a person only so far. Where thinking ends, revelation begins." (2.5.102)

    Do you think Michael has a point here? Perhaps critical thought and spiritual faith can co-exist, like chocolate and peanut butter.

    "Yeah, sure," my father said when he got the letter. "St. Christopher to the rescue." (2.5.56)

    Milton thinks that his mother's belief in saints is a crock of poo, but an event that can only be described as a deus ex machina ends up sparing him from battle. Could there be something in his mother's belief?

    "They let you in for free. Then you gotta pay for the rest of your life." (3.1.21)

    Milton's views on religion, especially Greek Orthodoxy, aren't exactly sunny. Does he have a point, or is his viewpoint a little skewed? Is dedication to religion the same as "paying" for it?

    In order to be reborn, you have to be buried first, so under the water I went. (3.1.24)

    Baptism as a symbol of rebirth is a recurring theme in Cal's life. Here, he's talking about a literal baptism, but near the end of the book he gets baptized again, in a way, in the strange underwater sex show that he becomes a part of.

    "Fix that church, like you promised," said Tessie. (3.6.113)

    Tessie constantly reminds Milton of his promise to fix the church in Greece, but he never does. Could his negligence have actually caused any of the bad things that happen to the Stephanides family, or is this belief a load of hooey?

    "Why do you have to paint a church?" (3.8.37)

    Ah, it seems that the family's religious beliefs (or at least the most superstitious ones) have been passed down from mother to father to daughter. Do you think Cal will ever get around to fixing that god darn church?

    Was there really a God after all, and did He punish people on Earth? These Old World superstitions had been banished from my mother's conscious mind, but they still operated in her dreams. (4.1.199)

    It's interesting how Tessie cannot forget her orthodox upbringing when she's sleeping. The harshest of her religious beliefs come out late at night. We must have gone to the Church of No Pants as a kid, because we keep having that dream…