I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detriot day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.
Author: Jeffrey Eugenides
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, & Girioux (2002)
Sub-Genres: Coming of Age, GLBTQ Studies, Family Histories
Character Speaking: Cal Stephanides
Analysis: Cal Stephanides, born Calliope, is an intersexed child from a Greek household born near Detroit in the middle of the twentieth century. Cal lives the first fourteen years of his life as a young girl, raised to be a feminine woman of the 60's, and then is suddenly cast into the role of a man.
The first line gives the basic premise of the entire book, which is essentially, a coming of age story with a major twist. Instead of trying to hide the big reveal, Eugenides goes straight for it. He doesn't treat the revelation as shocking or horrifying, but rather with a dignity (and slightly implied humor) that gives the book its natural feel. From the very first line, we have Cal's (who serves as our narrator, whether narratoring his own life or telling the story of his family) voice. This voice is what strings the book together, even when Cal disappears into the third person perspective when discussing his life as Calliope. Though he tries to get away from his childhood as a girl, his own voice remains our guide.
Also, the line brings up both the nature of birth and gender, which in turn, implies self. We describe the birthing process as being remarkable (The Miracle of Life, anyone?) and yet, here, we see it's also when someone transforms. People often describe the birth of their new self in this way - we are reborn after facing an obstacle and overcoming it. Here, there is no rebirth, because Cal isn't Calliope born anew. He's just brand new, with a completely new identity, a whole new birth.
Or, at least, that's what he wants us to think, and as we learn as the story progresses, what he wants is to believe in himself. His distance from Calliope (through that trick of narrating her story in the third person perspective) is because he can't face who he is and was. Even as an adult, he's only on the cusp of accepting his body, his gender (both his current one and the former one), and his self for what they are. It's a second birth, almost because he has to grow up one more time and learn how to be a man.
Only at the very end of the novel (which I won't spoil here) does Cal become a man in some sense of the word. And then, only possibly. It's that rebirth that all teenagers go through, when we become fully realized adults. Cal only had to wait for his rebirth, because he had to be been born twice, first.
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