Olivia RoseMs. BallENG 4U1Tuesday January 23, 2018Prejudice and its Place in ‘Middlesex’ and ‘Stones from the River’Prejudice and misconceptions; commonly known issues in the history of the world. Defined as being a preconceived thought or idea not based upon any logic or experiences, prejudice occurs almost every day. When meeting a new person, one will form a judgement whether they know the person or not, instantly deciding if they like the person they have met.
In school, students are taught about the history of the world, settlers travelling from their homelands to discover new places, meeting the inhabitants of the lands they found; but also of the judgements made against the people there, based on their living conditions, appearances, and language barriers. These judgements, evident from early history through to today, clearly show that prejudice is a part of the human nature, and accountable for the harsh treatments of many groups of people. Prejudice is also noted in literary works such as Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex, and Ursula Hegi’s Stones from the River. These two novels explore the thematic topic of prejudice, as well as the struggles of growing up. Both main characters start off as young children, their journey leading the reader through their lives growing up in a world filled with prejudice and the confusion that comes with growing older.
Middlesex follows the Stephanides family history, before leading into the life of Calliope/Cal and the consequences of hermaphroditism. The Stephanides are a family of Grecian descent, Eleutherios and Desdemona travelling from their home to America in 1922. The narrative recounts three generations of Stephanides, the first two parts of the novel focusing primarily on times before Calliope. The last two parts focusing on Calliope and the transitioning into Cal. In Stones from the River, the narrative takes place in Burgdorf, Germany, in 1915.
Trudi Montag is a Zwerg, or dwarf, who tries for the majority of her youth to come up with solutions to grow. It is Trudi’s belief that the madness her mother possesses is due to Trudi’s disproportionate body, desperately craving her mother’s wellbeing as well as her affection. In the novel, Trudi is disliked by many of the children her age, and is treated very poorly do to her differences. While reading Middlesex and Stones from the River, it is clear to see that prejudice can be a dangerous tool against others, and causes those who are visible minorities to feel isolated; forcing them to take desperate measures to attempt to fit into societal moulds. Misconceptions and prejudice are explored thoroughly through the use of religion, physical and mental states, and external social forces acting upon the characters.
One of the factors that contributes to prejudice and its effects on a person is religion. In the novel Middlesex, it is due to race and religion that Desdemona and Eleutherios, commonly known as Lefty, leave their home in Bithynios, fleeing to America for sanctuary. The siblings’ homeland is being attacked, villages burning to the ground and people dying. Lefty is able to get them passage onto a ship that takes them to America to live with their cousin Sourmelina.
In the novel, Desdemona remains a devout and faithful figure, despite living with Sourmelina and her husband, who do not practice the traditional faith as she does. Desdemona attends an Orthodox Greek church regularly, and wishes her family to do the same. Despite this, she herself has preconceptions based on what she believes.
While on the ship to America, brother and sister marry and consummates their love during the evening of their wedding night. Considered sinful to not only marry her brother, but to have sexual relations with him, Desdemona fears that she and her family will be punished severely.. Desdemona’s prejudgements regarding the strength of the church and the role it plays in her life cause her to feel a constant sense of shame, which only worsens with time. As her son Milton grows, she tries to convince him to fix a statue back in Bithynios of Christ, wanting to make sure that she does all she can to please the lord.
After watching a play about the Minotaur, Desdemona finds herself constantly thinking of disfigured babies as a result of species intermingling, thinking that her children will be monsters as well because of her marriage to Lefty. This can be seen as foreshadowing, as Calliope is born a hermaphrodite, which at the time was considered to be rather monstrous. Desdemona allows her fear and prejudgement of the church and God rule, deciding that after the birth of her son, Milton, she was no longer going to have children.
“A surgeon made two incisions below her navel. Stretching open the tissue and muscle toexpose the circuitry of the fallopian tubes, he tied each in a bow, and there were no morechildren.” (Eugenides, 165)Here, the reader can see that Desdemona decides to biologically block any chances of her becoming pregnant again.
After seeing her children are not strangely deformed in the same ways the Minotaur from the plays she watches are, she decides she must make sure she cannot conceive any more children, as well as making deals with God to protect her family from the ramifications of her actions. By having her fallopian tubes tied, Desdemona now can follow the church again without worry that she will be caught for her sins. Her two children are healthy and normal, and she hopes to keep it that way.
Her anxiety, though, follows her to old-age. Her whole life is spent trying to make deals with God in an attempt to forgive her and her family from their sins.The church is also prevalent in Stones from the River, In addition to prejudice in religion and how it causes a character to feel pressured to make hasty changes to her body in order to feel less isolated by the sin she commits, there is prejudice formed based on the state of the characters of the text. In some way, the characters are perceived to be different, whether that be physically or mentally. In Middlesex, prejudice against physical and/or mental differences is seem primarily against young Calliope Stephanides. Growing up, Calliope was not like most other children, with a face described as being not quite feminine, but something in between. She describes herself and her physical growth over the years, finding she does not mature in the same way as other girls.
She never receives her first period, nor does she develop breasts. In this, it is clear growing up she feels isolated by her differences. She tries to fake her menstrual cycle, and fill her shirts with tissue to make it appear as though she is normal. It is not until she begins to develop romanticized feelings for another young girl that she begins to understand how she is different. When she runs away after a sexual encounter with the young girl, whom she refers to as ‘the Obscure Object’, whose brother tries to injure them both. They then find out she is actually a hermaphrodite, and she is taken from her home to a specialist doctor.
There she learns about the prejudice against hermaphroditism, looking up her condition in a dictionary. “For a second Callie saw herself that way. As a lumbering, shaggy creature pausing at the edge of the woods…But the synonym pursued her.
Webster’s dictionary kept calling after her, Monster, Monster!” (Eugenides, 430-431) This leads her to run away from home, feeling more isolated than ever. Despite the doctor having had encounters with other people similar to Calliope, they still allow for others to make judgements about her, calling Calliope a freak, and subjecting her to tests and exams. She is forced to watch pronography, in order to determine if their judgements about what it is like to be a partially and partially female. If Calliope had not been subjected to these tests, or heard her parents crying due to the doctor’s research, Calliope’s transition to become Cal would have been smoother.
Cal ran away and joined a brothel type show that depicted him as the monster he felt he was based on the misconceptions of his family and doctor.Similarly to Cal’s physical differences, Trudi too faced prejudice against her body. Being a Zerg in Germany, Trudi stands much shorter than her parents. Her dwarfism causes her body to look slightly disproportionate.
Her head looks too large for her body. During the time of war, she worries that it is her difference that causes her mother to be insane to the point of being locked up in asylums. Trudi has many misconceptions about life and the way it works, making her seem naive and gullible. As a child, Trudi’s mother was supposed to give birth to a little boy, who died prematurely not long after Trudi ate sugar from the windowsill that was supposed to attract a stork.
She believes that she is the reason for her brother’s death. Trudi first learns of prejudice against her physical form when she tries to make friends. Due to her dwarfism, many of the children refuse to play with her, so she befriends Georg Weiler. Georg is treated as an outsider as well, because of his mother who had desperately wanted a girl. In light of this, she dresses her son in smocks opposed to lederhosen, and refuses to cut his hair. The boys his age deem him a coward and feminine and force him into isolation. Because of their differences, Trudi and Georg form a bond, Trudi being able to convince others she is worthy of making friends outside of school. In school, the other children taunt Trudi, and act cruelly towards her based on her height.
.”But when they called her names- Zwerg- dwarf, and Zwergenbein- dwarf leg- names they knew would sting, she’d grab fistfuls of dirt to fling at their taunting faces. She’d fling names at them too- Schweinsau- pig, sow… vile names that made her afraid her soul was becoming as hideous as her body.” (Hegi, 92). Despite trying to make friends, she has to go to one of the teachers in order for the girls to reluctantly include her in their games. Even while playing she feels isolated, and when they try to hurt her feelings with name calling, she uses words she hears adults saying to them back.
Names that cause the nuns to scold her for her temper, and warn that she must behave as a young lady should. She tries desperately to make herself taller, hoping this will make her peers forgive and befriend her.Finally, there is the social forces acting on the characters. In history, it is proven that the mindset of a generation is affected greatly by the world around them, and how the world interacts with them. Politics about different topics change greatly around times of war, accounting for rises in hatred and prejudice of other groups.
Politics also change with each generation, as new technology is created and used to advance the human race. Old values begin to fade into new ones,