1. What was your overall impression of
Middlesex? It is such a diverse and huge read: did
you connect more with some parts of the novel than others? Why? If
you were to sum up this novel to a friend, what kind of book would
you say it is?
2. "Every novelist needs a hermaphroditic imagination," Jeffrey
Eugenides has said. "We have to get into the heads of characters of
both sexes, after all. So hermaphroditism is part of the job." How
well does Middlesex relate a girl's experience and
the voice of the man she grows up to be?
3. Why is Callie's brother referred to, throughout the novel, as
4. Towards the end of the novel, Cal says "There have been
hermaphrodites like me since the world began. But as I came out
from my holding pen it was possible that no generation other than
my brother's was as well disposed to accept me." Do you agree? What
does Middlesex have to tell us about the
cultural and sexual revolutions of the 1960s and 70s?
5. Orlando by Virginia Woolf,
Self by Yann Martel, not to mention the
figure of Tiresias in Greek myth: what's so attractive about women
who become men (and vice versa) as a literary subject?
6. Middlesex is narrated by Cal, the
grown-up version of Callie. As well as describing things that took
place long before his birth, he talks of his own present-day
experiences in Berlin. Why do you think the novel is narrated in
this dual way, switching between the past and the present? Is it
7. Who was your favourite minor character in the book, and who
was the least appealing? Jimmy Zizmo? Dr Luce? The Obscure Object?
8. Are Callie's experiences, in an extreme way, the difficulties
of every adolescence -- the confusions of growing up, discovering
one's body, one's sexuality and identity? Did anything in Callie's
teenage years remind you of your own?
9. Which did you enjoy more: the story of the Stephanides family
before Callie's birth (the 1920s to the 1950s), or after (the 1960s
and 1970s)? Why?
10. What's the significance of place in
Middlesex? How do the embattled and divided
locations -- Smyrna, Detroit, Berlin -- affect events and inform
the characters' experiences?
11. Who do you think would get more out of
Middlesex: male readers or female readers?
12. What does Middlesex make you think about
the idea of normality -- norms of gender identity, sexual identity,
class or race. You might think not only of Cal/Callie, but also
Sourmelina, the family's experience as immigrants, the riots in
Detroit, etc. Does Middlesex suggest that
it's better to fit in or make one's own path?
13. What's the importance of fate -- thought of as mythological,
romantic, or genetic -- to Middlesex? What about
luck, chance and coincidence?
14. Why does Callie choose to be Cal? Do you think it's the
right thing to do? More generally, what is the significance of
personal choice in issues as fundamental as gender and
15. Middlesex was exhaustively
researched. What do you know about historical hermaphrodites,
transvestites, eunuchs, and other challenges to the "traditional"
classification of genders? What effect do such people have on what
we think men and women are? How are such individuals treated
16. Finally, some questions about what's not in the book: How do
you think Cal's family dealt with him over the few years after his
return as a man? What was Cal's life like in the 1980s and 1990s?
What do you think happens next, once the novel is over: can Cal and
Julie Kikuchi find happiness together?