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I try to go back in my mind to a time before genetics, before everyone was in the habit of saying about everything, “It’s in the genes.” A time before our present freedom, and so much freer! . . . Now we know we carry this map of ourselves around. Even as we stand on the street corner, it dictates our destiny.
Cal makes this comment in Chapter 2 when considering why Desdemona and Lefty fall in love. As he examines their history, he realizes that he doesn’t know if science or something less concrete explains it but suggests that current knowledge of genetics makes it difficult to consider other explanations. This quotation establishes the way genetic destiny works in the novel, blurring together with more traditional notions of fate. Just like fate, believing one’s genes control destiny relies on the idea that events that happened before someone’s birth matter more than the actions they take during their lifetime. We see this attitude in Desdemona’s belief that her own purity determines the purity of both the silk she makes and the children she bears. This reasoning also causes Cal to look back on his family to understand himself because he feels he cannot fully understand who he is without looking at the people and patterns that came before him.
However, this quotation also introduces the limitations of the idea of genetic destiny. Even though Cal claims genes now explain everything, he still cannot use them to explain Desdemona and Lefty’s attraction. In addition to evoking more abstract ideas like love, Cal goes on to suggest that rogue coding might have caused his grandparents’ attraction. The idea that genes can go rogue does not fit within a paradigm of fixed and fated genetic inheritance but opens the possibility of chance or even free will. Throughout the novel, although Cal holds on to the idea of fate, and genetics evidently play a part in determining someone’s personality, they never tell the full story. Cal ultimately portrays his transition to living as a man as a choice he makes of his own free will given the genetic cards he was dealt.