In Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, how does Cal's identity develop with respect to a bio-psycho-social perspective based on personality and development theories?

Expert Answers
Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To complete your assignment, you want to consider that there are definitely several different theories on personality development and to review them all to decide which one you most want to relate to Cal in Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. To name a few, there are Jean Piaget's theory of cognitive development; Sigmund Freud's theory of personality development based on sexuality and what he calls the id, ego, and superego; Erik Erikson's eight-stage theory of development; and Kohlberg's theory of moral development. Let's take a look at Erik Erikson's eight-stage theory as an example to see how his theory can easily relate to Cal.

Erikson based his theory on Freud's but argues the exact opposite of Freud. Freud argues that personality development (or lack of) stems from conflict between the id, meaning personal desires and urges, and the superego, which refers to the id's moral compass based on society and upbringing. In contrast, Erikson argues that development stems from the ego, which Freud called the part of us that controls the urges of the id based on what's understood to be socially acceptable and what meets reality. The ego stands in contrast to the superego because the ego makes decisions based on society and reality, while the superego makes decisions based on morality. As opposed to Freud, Erikson saw personality developing based on influences from "culture and society" as well as "conflicts that take place within the ego itself" (McLeod, "Erik Erikson"). Erikson argued that personality developed as the ego resolved social "crises," thereby establishing a "sense of identity in society" and a "sense of trust in others" (McLeod).

Already we can see how Erikson's theory plays out in Cal's character. Cal started out in conflict with both herself and society due to her initial lack of knowledge about her hermaphrodite gender. She started out in life believing she was a girl but began having sexual urges like those of a boy, sexual urges that ran contrary to society. When society deemed, through the eyes of the specialist Dr. Luce, that she should be fully turned into a girl through the use of cosmetic surgery and hormone therapy, her response was to run away from society and call herself a boy. She mostly made the personal decision she was a boy based on her sexual preference for girls and the fact that the surgery would prevent her from "experiencing sexual pleasure" (eNotes, "Middlesex: Summary, Book Four"). Hence, it can be said that her ego developed to socially identify herself as a boy based on her conflicts between her sexual preferences, her anatomical structure, and what society wanted for her, as seen in Dr. Luce's decision. However, her development didn't stop there. Her ego development was not complete until she also accepted herself as a hermaphrodite, despite the fact that being such contradicted social norms.

To further complete your assignment using Erikson's theory as an example, you'll also want to develop an understanding of all of the following eight stages of development, as listed by McLeod, to see how all eight stages can apply to Cal:

  1. Trust vs. mistrust
  2. Autonomy vs. shame
  3. Initiative vs. guilt
  4. Industry vs. inferiority
  5. Ego identity vs. Role Confusion
  6. Intimacy vs. isolation
  7. Generativity vs. stagnation
  8. Ego integrity vs. despair

If we start with Cal's childhood, we can easily see how she started out in life with a sense of trust in her parents and the doctor's decision that she was a girl, moved into feelings of guilt as she soon saw herself behaving differently from other girls, started feeling ashamed of her true mixed gender, started feeling sexually isolated, and then finally accepted her true self.

treasures33 | Student

How about Cal's identity formation through the lens of Freud's theory?

Read the study guide:

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question