Middlesex: The Setting and its Effect
Now that I have finally finished reading Middlesex, I have begun to think a lot about where the book took place. The setting of the book, while it began in Europe, largely focuses on Detroit and one of its suburbs, Grosse Point. At first, I took this as an arbitrary location; at some point I had heard that Eugenides grew up there or something. I began to think about the setting a little bit more, it seemed there was something more to it. Detroit, a city historically known as the home of Ford, seemed an unlikely location. When I picture Detroit, I picture backed up rivers and smoky auto plants. In “Middlesex,” you don’t get any of these thoughts. It is almost as if the book is completely devoid of descriptions of the city. Of course there are descriptions of the areas where Lefty had his speakeasy, but the protagonist has little interaction with the city itself.
I believe Detroit is representative of something beyond an empty setting where our protagonist comes of age. Because Ford is located there, the city has not only been known for economic rejuvenation, but also for production. Further, this production is never different, it is also very formulaic. Perhaps this is why Cal wants to leave so bad, tearing for the open skies of California. Cal sees elements in the city that are completely unlike him. He is an element of production that is not typical, that is not the same as the one before or after it. If I was a REALLY crazy English student, I might even make the claim that Cal represents a malfunctioning car that is taken off the assembly line, meant to be dismantled and taken somewhere else. This could also be another reason that Lefty initially goes to work for Ford. Although it is the largest company in Detroit and employs the most workers, perhaps he finds a sort of sanctity and hope in working in an environment that is consistently regulated. I recognize that he may not have known about his daughter’s hermaphroditic status, but Eugenides may have intended it to be that way, to further juxtapose the characters of Cal and Lefty.
It is also interesting that the move to Grosse Point following the race riots in the sixties finds the family moving onto “Middlesex St.” It quickly becomes apparent to the reader that once out of the strictly formulaic atmosphere of metro Detroit, the protagonist begins to spread her wings. After all, it is in Grosse Point where Cal meets “The Object,” and the beginning of the sexual journey into her status as a hermaphrodite begins to take place. Grosse Point serves as a place of liberation for the family, free from the constraints of the cold and consistent nature of Detroit.