Meanwhile, Desdemona finds Lefty collapsed on the kitchen floor and sobs. However, she also feels like a weight has been lifted. Soon it becomes evident that Lefty’s heart still beats. He awakens two days later with his memory intact but unable to speak. He communicates by writing on a chalkboard. Cal warns that from here out all narration will be colored by his own participation.
Julie Kikuchi believes that beauty is always freakish. Cal sees the same quality in his baby self, who possesses strange features that nevertheless come together harmoniously.
After guilt tripping from Desdemona, Milton agrees to let Callie be baptized. Michael, now Father Mike, performs the ceremony. Callie pees in Father Mike’s face by accident. Milton is delighted by his daughter committing this small blasphemy. No one wonders about the mechanics of how Callie is able to pee in such an arc. Desdemona takes the humiliating event as a bad omen, and she has always felt uneasy about Callie. Callie not only defied the power of her spoon, but Lefty collapsed the day of her birth. However, Desdemona eventually cannot resist Callie, and Callie becomes her favorite grandchild.
Cal recalls the home movies Milton used to make. Dr. Luce used these to show how feminine Callie’s socialization was. At Christmas, her parents would dress her in tulle skirts. There’s a film labeled “Easter ‘62” that shows her feeding a baby doll a toy bottle. Milton stops making the videos out of worry over the family finances. The Zebra Room’s neighborhood has grown increasingly full of racial tension. Callie sometimes goes with Milton to the diner and talks with a Black man named Marius, who stands out front educating about racism. He’s studying law and kind to Callie, calling her Cleopatra. He tells her Milton is afraid of Black people. Callie doesn’t believe him, but she does start to notice the way Milton seems anxious around Black people. One day, Milton catches Callie talking to Marius and scolds them.
The upward mobility of the Stephanides family and the descent into poverty of the Zebra Room’s neighborhood highlight the unequal opportunities afforded to white and Black Americans. Despite Lefty’s criminal past, Milton, a former scout and Naval officer, has cultivated an all-American persona and attitude, which he uses in an entrepreneurial fashion. Even though the neighborhood the Zebra Room is in has already started to decline when he opens, he’s able to turn a profit, allowing his family to move to a larger home in a more prestigious place. However, in these same chapters, we see that the very presence of Black people in a neighborhood limits the earning potential of the businesses there, meaning that the Black citizens of Detroit fundamentally do not have the same opportunity as the Stephanides family to build a business. Milton’s hostility toward Marius for merely talking to Callie also suggests that he has internalized the same attitude that denies Black people opportunities because he associates them with danger and crime.
The imagery surrounding preformation in Chapter 11 blurs the line between science and religion, developing the theme of genetic destiny. Despite the scientific language used, preformation draws a line directly to biblical times, belying the concept’s religious leanings. Cal demonstrates how ridiculous this theory is by imagining himself and Chapter Eleven watching events as omniscient pre-birth observers. However, Cal segues from these images to talk about genetics as fated, even creating a mythical god of biology at the end. The juxtaposition of the clearly false idea of preformation with Cal’s version of the concept of genetic destiny, with its religious undertones, causes us to question if, like preformation, genetic destiny has an element of superstition to it. Furthermore, while Cal portrays his birth as fated, it occurs the same day as Lefty’s first seizure, which may also have been caused by genetic factors. The characters never explore the cause of Lefty’s strokes, which further highlights that Cal applies the notion of fate unevenly, through his own lens. For all that Cal has claimed throughout his narration that genetics determine one’s life, the way science and religion blur together when he discusses genetics suggests this idea may not be as scientific as it seems.