Study Guide

Middlesex Race

By Jeffrey Eugenides


It's easy to just lump race into black and white and a few things in between and on either side. But we're talking about race here, not Oreo cookies, and one of the things Middlesex does is remind us on a regular basis how complex race is.

Race is never simple, and this was especially true in the early days of American immigration. White could mean Italian, Dutch, Irish, English, German, Greek, and so on. Thanks (that's a sarcastic thanks) to Ellis Island, all of these people were expected to act "white," whatever that means. Often it meant changing their names, or modifying their behaviors. Through the experience of Lefty and Desdemona, we see how by trying to act the same as everyone else, they start to become more isolated from each other.

This is heavy stuff. Can we go back to talking about Oreos?

Questions About Race

  1. Is Cal made up of different races?
  2. How does Cal interact with people of a different race? How does Desdemona? Milton? 
  3. Desdemona is afraid of black people. What causes her to change her mind? Despite her change in beliefs, does she change her behavior?
  4. Why is Milton an advocate for segregation?

Chew on This

Cal spends a lot of his time in a very white world, but enters into an inter-racial relationship with Julie Kikuchi by the end of the novel.

Cal sees how his father's attitudes antagonized the black people of Detroit. Consciously or not, Cal is more open about race because of this.