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Cal invites Julie to spend the weekend in Pomerania with him in separate hotel rooms. He relies on seeming old-fashioned to excuse his slow courtship. As they pass a nudist beach, Cal is jealous that he can never feel so free in his body.
Milton tries to salvage his failing restaurant. By now, he can only sell it for a fraction of its worth. Chapter Eleven and Callie know something is wrong by the tone of the adult conversations happening in Greek and because Milton is home during the day. The family begins to ration electricity.
In July of 1967, the impoverished Black citizens of Detroit fight back against the police after they raid a bar, which turns into multiple days of rioting. A friend calls at night to warn Milton of the riots. He grabs his gun from under his pillow and runs to the diner. Terrified, the rest of the family camp in the attic for the next three days, watching events on TV. Desdemona compares the burning to Smyrna, but the rioters on TV look happy. Eventually, the government sends in the National Guard, and Callie sees a tank drive down her street. Determined to protect Milton, she sneaks out of the house and heads downtown.
At the diner, Milton is surprised when one of his regular Black customers, Morrison, approaches and asks for a cigarette. Milton asks why the riots are happening. Morrison says, “The thing wrong with us is you,” a phrase Milton never understands and uses mockingly in the future. Morrison goes home to light his cigarette, and the National Guardsmen shoot him.
Callie approaches the diner, pleased to see it still intact. Just then, Marius throws a Molotov cocktail at the diner while shouting, “Opa!” Milton sees his diner catch fire but remembers the insurance policies. He flees and is surprised to find Callie outside. She cries when she sees the restaurant burn, but Milton tells her it’ll be okay.
The insurance payout reverses the Stephanides’ fortunes, and they become wealthy.Milton attempts to find a house in affluent Grosse Pointe but struggles because Grosse Pointe has instituted the Point System. This system keeps the “wrong” kind of people, anyone not white and Protestant, out of the neighborhood. However, when the realtor shows Milton an unusual house that she knows will be a difficult sale, she realizes that she might have to make an exception. Milton pays cash up front, further circumventing the Point System. Tessie is dismayed, but the family moves into the house on Middlesex Boulevard.
The house was designed based on theories of architecture instead of practicality. Instead of doors, it has barriers that work via pneumatics. Chapter Eleven tricks Callie into putting her head in the way of one of the barriers and shuts it on her. The stairs follow the principle that the universe doesn’t have one destination and therefore meander around the house with peepholes to allow people to see the rooms below. Desdemona is convinced she will die in the guesthouse, which she and Lefty move into. Lefty has another stroke but doesn’t tell anyone.
Callie, age seven, befriends the eight-year-old girl next door, Clementine Stark. Clementine invites Callie over and asks if Callie wants to practice kissing. They kiss, and Callie’s heart leaps.
Callie invites Clementine over. They go to the bathhouse on the property and play, rolling together in the water. When they notice Lefty there, they panic but then realize that something is wrong with him. An ambulance comes. Callie, blaming herself, prays for forgiveness. That night, Clementine’s father has a heart attack, and she and her mom soon move away.
Lefty recovers, but his memory deteriorates and he travels back through the years. Desdemona has to pretend that the kitchen is the Zebra Room. Lefty mistakes the milkman for Zizmo and tries to get into his truck to go rum running. Desdemona panics because she knows his mind will eventually rewind to when they were merely siblings to each other. Lefty does eventually start calling her sis, but the family blame the dementia. Three months later, he has a final stroke and dies.
Cal notes that he could understand the grief of those in his family because of his ability to understand both genders. Milton refuses to acknowledge his emotions. Tessie smothers Chapter Eleven and Callie with affection. However, Desdemona’s feelings remain a mystery. She retires to her bed and doesn’t leave for ten years.
Milton’s inability to see the structural inequalities Black Americans live with highlights both how assimilated he has become and the specific difficulties Black Americans face. Lefty, although willing to assimilate, faced many structural challenges in establishing himself after immigration. He even turned to illegal work after he losing his job for being related to Zizmo, something Lefty had no control over. Because of the intense scrutiny the Ford factory put Lefty under, we can conclude that they looked so hard into Lefty and Zizmo’s backgrounds because Lefty is Greek and was not entirely assimilated. Lefty’s hard work at Ford did not matter in the face of anti-immigrant sentiment. Although Milton still faces anti-Greek sentiment, as with the Grosse Pointe Point System, he proves adept at working around prejudice through the strength of intelligence and, more importantly, money, a luxury not afforded to Black Americans. Therefore, Milton jeers at Morrison’s statement because he believes that Black people blame white people for their problems instead of fixing them in the same way he works around prejudices.He cannot understand how systemic the oppression of Black Detroiters is.
These two chapters demonstrate more of the cyclical way time works in the novel. The Stephanides family again faces a fire in the form of the 1967 riots. However, Lefty’s past experience this time allows the family to turn tragedy into a windfall because Lefty took out so many insurance policies on the Zebra Room. In this sense, time does not repeat itself for the Stephanides family exactly, but each generation learns from previous cycles, allowing them to prosper. However, the family can only avoid repeating history when that history is acknowledged, as with the fire. In contrast, because Lefty and Desdemona keep their incest secret, Desdemona cannot fully explain to Milton and Tessie why she initially discouraged their marriage, and Tessie and Milton continue a pattern of intermarriage in the Stephanides family in part because they do not have the information to change. Secrets perpetuate cycles within the family, making change impossible. We see another instance of circular time in Lefty’s decline, which forces him to live his life again in reverse. The parallel of Lefty’s mind deteriorating to his village childhood with the family settling into their Grosse Pointe American Dream success story suggests that time also operates as a cycle of death and renewal.
The Middlesex house, which provides a partial meaning of the novel’s title, has symbolic ties to Cal as a character. Like Cal himself, the house is difficult to categorize. Despite its location in an extremely prestigious neighborhood, the house has an unusual appearance that makes it difficult to sell, both desirable and undesirable. The house’s architect used design principles avant-garde at the time that later ironically cause the house to look dated, making it neither modern nor traditional. As we have seen throughout the novel, people often react to uncategorizable objects and people with a mixture of fear and desire, which is part of what frightens Cal about himself. Accordingly, while Callie finds the house exciting, its strange “conveniences” carry danger, as is evident when Chapter Eleven tricks Callie into getting her head trapped in the pneumatic barrier. Another feature of the house tied to Cal is the staircase that meanders in circles before taking someone to their destination. Cal also writes in this manner, taking circuitous paths, and like the peepholes in the stairwell, glancing into the lives of others or looking back on where he came from in the service of taking himself to the next stage of his life.
Chapter 14 further explores how members of the Stephanides family treat guilt and shame as something carried physically in one’s body. Callie believes her first experience of desire causes Lefty’s stroke, tying sexuality with danger and damage. This belief is similar to Desdemona’s understanding that everything she creates—silk, children—will somehow bear the sign of her own sexual sin. After Lefty’s death, Desdemona becomes bedridden in part from this same guilt. The first time Desdemona believed Lefty dead, Callie was able to clearly intuit her relief, but her murkier feelings here are likely caused by Lefty’s comments while his memory faded. During Lefty’s convalescence, he mentally goes back in time to before he and Desdemona fell in love, which leaves Desdemona alone with the sin of incest that they committed together. In addition, Lefty reveals their secret to the family, which frightened Desdemona even if no one recognized his statement as the truth. Now trapped alone with her secret, Desdemona embodies her shame by feeling as sick physically as she believes herself to be spiritually.