What role do history and memory play in regard to the theme of identity in Middlesex?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The past and memory is something that is vital in this story as Cal narrates his/her past and the past of his/her descendants, tracing his gene back to the incestuous relationship between his/her grandparents and then the marriage of his parents. Interestingly, history is presented in a way that explores how the present is made, in terms of the love stories that bring Desdemona and Lefty together and then Cal's parents. In this novel, history is something that is seen as an inexorable force, as Cal very clearly states in the opening of the book where the power of genes coming together is referred to:

After decades of neglect, I find myself thinking about departed great-aunts and -uncles, long-lost grandfathers, unknown fifth cousins, or, in the case of an inbred family like mine, all those things in one. And so before it's too late I want to get it down for good: this rollercoaster ride of a single gene through time.

History is therefore the vehicle that brings both Cal and the reader to the present, and, to this extent, history is presented as something in which fate triumphs over free will. Cal has no choice over his/her gender, and his/her narration of the events that lead up to his/her birth and growth are something that can only explain Cal's hermaphrodite status. What the narration of Cal's story does do is that it enables Cal to develop his/her own identity and sense of self in opposition to standard gender nominations. At the end of the story, Cal finally seems to have gained the happy ending with Julie Kikuchi that is so richly deserved. History and memory is used therefore to explain the present and also to allow the protagonist to come to terms with his/her identity.

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