Characters

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Michael Antoniou

Father Mike, assistant priest at the Greek Orthodox church the family attends, married Zoë, Milton's sister, after Tessie broke off her engagement with him. He is sweet-natured before he marries Zoë, but her constant nagging about how successful her brother is compared to him wears him down and turns him bitter. In a desperate attempt to get enough money to leave Zoë and to get even with Milton for his success in business and in marriage, Father Mike tries to blackmail him.

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Eleven is the only name that Cal gives to her older brother. As a child, he likes to shoot, hammer, and smash things. He becomes geeky and nerdy as a teenager but turns into a "John Lennon look-alike" at college where he adopts anti-war and anti-establishment views. He ignores Cal for most of her life since they are far apart in age, but the two become closer when Chapter Eleven faces the Vietnam draft. He ultimately shows his loyalty when he rescues Cal from jail in California. His lack of business sense, however, causes him to ruin his father's hot dog franchise.

Jerome

Jerome, the Object's brother, is the first boy with whom Cal has sex. He seems to want to have a relationship with Cal, but after Cal rebuffs him, he turns on her and his sister with cruel epithets when he catches them together.

Zora Khyber

Zora Khyber, a hermaphrodite that works at the sex club, is sympathetic to Cal's gender confusion and so spends a lot of time sharing her extensive research with her. She has a marked violent streak, however, that frightens Cal.

Julie Kikuchi

Cal's relationship with Julie Kikuchi, a thirty-six-year-old Asian-American living in Berlin, appears in brief glimpses throughout the text. She is straightforward, asking Cal as soon as she meets her if she is gay. Julie's open-mindedness is evident when she is willing to begin a relationship with Cal after Cal admits that she is a hermaphrodite.

Peter Luce

Dr. Luce diagnoses Cal in New York and writes up her case and publishes it. Although he is considered the world's leading authority on hermaphroditism, he misdiagnoses the causes of the condition. Extremely confident in his medical theories, the "brilliant, charming, work-obsessed" Luce, nevertheless "prayed," Cal assumes, that she "would never show up to refute them."

Object of Desire

Cal names the Object of Desire after a famous European film. The Object is part of the popular clique in Cal's private school, whose members ordinarily shun ethnic girls like Cal. But the Object's loneliness, caused by parents who pay little attention to her, encourages her to begin a friendship with Cal that eventually turns sexual. The Object gives into her feelings for Cal but expresses her insecurities and frustration about her lesbian tendencies when she declares, "You understand everything I say…. Why can't you be a guy?"

Bob Presto

Bob Presto runs the sex club where Cal works. He appears to be sympathetic and kind-hearted when he rescues Cal after she is beaten up by the homeless men, but his ultimate goal is financial.

Clementine Stark

Clementine, Cal's first friend in Grosse Point, teaches her how to kiss properly and causes Cal's first feelings of gender confusion.

Calliope Stephanides

Calliope, who changes her name to Cal when she assumes a male identity, is the narrator of the story. She claims that she has a male brain but was assumed to be female at birth. Cal establishes a connection between herself and her family when she admits, "my grandparents had fled their home because of a war. Now,...

(This entire section contains 1378 words.)

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some fifty-two years later, I was fleeing myself." She joins the foreign service because she cannot have children and because she does not want to stay in one place for too long, fearing that her gender will be discovered.

Cal insists that from the beginning of her life she had "the ability to communicate between the genders, to see not with the monovision of one sex but in the stereoscope of both." Yet her hermaphroditism causes her great shame. As a result, she admits, "when I meet someone I like and who seems to like me, I retreat." Her humor helps her cope with her loneliness and enables her to take an honest look at her situation. By the end of the novel, she gains the courage, through a careful examination of the connection between her experiences and those of her family, to open herself up to a relationship with Julie.

Desdemona Stephanides

Cal's grandmother, Desdemona, is "perfectly designed for blocking people's paths" as she tries to maintain her family's ties to the old world. She reveals a sense of the dramatic whenever she is crossed by fanning herself with her "six atrocity fans" that list crimes committed against Greece. Cal notes: "the ominous, storm-gathering quality" of her fanning becomes "her secret weapon" in this battle.

Cal notes the difference between Desdemona and her cousin: "in the course of her life Sourmelina had become an American. Almost nothing of the village remained in her. Her self-entombed cousin, on the other hand, had never left it." Desdemona is superstitious, believing that her marriage to her brother dooms the family. As a result, she is consumed by guilt, which causes her to withdraw from her husband and eventually the world. When Desdemona spends the last ten years of her life in bed after Lefty dies, Cal calls her "a sick person imprisoned in a healthy body."

Eleutherios Stephanides

Eleutherios, or Lefty as he was known, is Cal's grandfather and Desdemona's husband. His nonconformist nature becomes evident when he frequents gambling and prostitution houses in Greece and convinces his sister to marry him. After he gambles away his money, he and Desdemona live in the attic of Cal's house; he spends his mornings translating Greek poems, while at night he smokes hash in a hookah. Cal develops a close relationship with her "Chaplinesque papou," with his elegant clothes and playful nature.

Milton Stephanides

Milton is Cal's father and Desdemona's son. He possesses "a flinty self-confidence that protected him like a shell from the world's assaults." Of the family members, he assimilates most successfully: he learns American jazz and business sense. He distances himself further from his homeland when he adopts right-wing politics, identifies with Nixon, and supports the United States so much that he denounces his Greek heritage. His obsession with the American dream distances him from his family as he becomes more preoccupied with his business worries. Cal notes "he began to leave a little more of himself at the diner each day" until he "wasn't really there at all."

Sourmelina Stephanides

Sourmelina, called Lina, is Desdemona's and Lefty's cousin. Her parents send her to the United States when they discover that she is a lesbian. She successfully assimilates American culture yet retains some ties to her heritage. When she thinks her husband, Jimmy, is dead, she grieves in the Greek style.

Tessie Stephanides

Tessie Stephanides, born Tessie Zizmo, is Cal's mother. Milton is attracted to her "all-American looks." She is quiet and, like Cal, enjoys watching people. After building her world around her family, she starts to feel useless when Chapter Eleven goes off to college and Cal matures. After Cal leaves, Tessie becomes depressed because her intense motherly devotion is frustrated. That same devotion, however, causes her to accept Cal's sex change from female to male, from a daughter to a son.

Zoë Stephanides

Zoë Stephanides, called Aunt Zo, is Desdemona's and Lefty's daughter, and Cal's aunt. She marries Father Mike by default when Tessie breaks off her engagement with him. Characterized by her good sense of humor and loud talk, she is uncomfortable with the prospect of being a role model as Father Mike's wife. Her jealousy over her brother's good fortune and Mike's obvious affection for Tessie turns Aunt Zo into a nag who constantly berates Mike for his shortcomings. She "never missed a chance to lament her marriage" to him.

Jimmy Zizmo

Jimmy, who is of unknown ethnic origin, is married to Lina. He is an ex-con, drug dealer, and scam artist whose adaptability becomes evident when he turns quickly from rum-running to proselytizing as the head prophet of the Nation of Islam in Detroit.

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