Drawing Parallels

 A good portion of yesterday’s class focused on the importance of the setting in Middlesex. Some believed that Eugenides chose Detroit and not somewhere else for a number of the features of this particular city that could be used to illuminate certain themes in the book. Most students that participated in this part of the discussion approached their response by first mentioning what unique feature (s) of Detroit was/were important for telling the story and then suggesting that Eugenides choice of Detroit could be attributed to the presence of these particular features. While this debate could never be settled (unless we could ask Eugenides and somehow trust his opinion), it is my opinion that Eugenides went about choosing the setting for this novel in a different way. I believe that he first decided to use Detroit as the setting and then decided the particular features of Detroit that would be most useful in reinforcing some of his basic points. Eugenides grew up in Detroit and knew it well. He was quite familar with its geographic layout, its culture, and its history, and he felt comfortable with telling a story that was set in a place in which he spent much of his life. 

Eugenides chooses to describe features of Detroit with which most people are familar, and he employs catchy literary techniques to describe certain aspects of these features. These literary techniques are a clue to the reader to get the mental wheels cranking and to begin to draw endless parallels that may or may not be intentional. In the cases in which parallels are intentional, Eugenides (and many other writers) faciliatates this parallel creation process in the reader by including only the elements (and excluding the irrelevant or contradictory ones) of one thing or idea that seem necessary to successfully compare it to another thing or idea.  Moreover, the language he uses to describe the aspects chosen may seem to have a logical linkage to a major theme in the novel that triggers the idea of a parallel in the reader’s brain. Other choices of words may not have the same effect. My point it that the setting and features readers believe are intentionally chosen to illuminate certain themes in Middlesex (and other novels) are not necessarily important and may in some instances be arbitrary. However, in the case of Middlesex, the particular aspects of features of Detroit that Eugenides chooses to highlight and the language he uses to describe these aspects are important to the creation of parallels that support the major theme(s) of the novel.



~ by oconneds on March 25, 2008.

3 Responses to “Drawing Parallels”

  1. I think it is drilled into all English majors and basically anyone who has ever taken a high school level English class that writers write about what they know. Eugenides grew up in Detriot and knew the city well enough to portray a vivid and convincing verison of the city to his readers. But I think that the selling point for Detroit as the novel’s backdrop is the prominence of Henry Ford.

    Like in other novels that we have read, partciularly Brave New World, Henry Ford is an extremely important character in the novel despite the fact that he never actually presents himself in the novel. His business and the industry that it fostered and facilitated epitomized the American dream at the time. The mass production, market-driven environment of the industrial North allows the reader to understand the plight of new immigrants from Greece trying to make it in the land of opportunity.

    While the background of a novel and its characters are obviously important to the plot and development of any novel, Middlesex is susceptible to the widespread influence of Henry Ford.


  2. So are the symbols and motifs Eugenides uses important or unimportant? Do they exist or are they just made up by us? I couldn’t really figure out which side you were taking, Steve. I think a lot of posts and class discussions have discounted the merits of dissecting a story like an English major. I’ll admit, I couldn’t believe it when English teachers first told me that this thing stood for this or that or that authors wrote each sentence, even each word deliberately. I believe it now.

    This isn’t the best seller of the week–it won the Pulitzer Prize. It has so much literary merit because (I think) Eugenides was deliberate with everything down to each character’s name. Even the fact that Middlesex was in the middle of the book, I think, was his doing on purpose. I agree with you that he wrote about Detroit because it is his hometown. However, I also agree with Rachel that the backdrop of Detroit especially nourishes the book’s themes of Americanization and cookie-cutter assembly line production. Any other city during this time period would not have fit quite so well, so I think that he chose the city for its themes rather than adapted the story to fit with the city.

  3. -Nikki

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