Literature covers different themes, and genetics is one of them. Therefore, Simon Mawer’s novel “Mendel’s Dwarf” and Jeffrey Eugenides’s “Middlesex” are the works concerning this issue. The existence of such novels proves that science pervades literature. However, these compositions cover not only the subject of genetics, they also narrate about everyday human relationships through the lens of freaks’ quests for their sense of self.
Both Mawer’s and Eugenides’s works have interesting chapter titles that neatly shape their narratives. One of the most important chapters in “Middlesex” is the Chapter Four in the book one titled “The Silk Road.” This chapter tells the readers about Lefty and Desdemona’s escape on the boat to the US. The couple pretends not to be relatives there and gets married on the board of “Giulia”. Moreover, they mediate upon their prospects for future. The title of the chapter is connected with the Cal’s account of the Chinese legend about silk discovery at its beginning. The legend tells how a princess from China noticed the beautiful and long thread unraveled by the silkworm in her teacup.
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Another important chapter in the “Middlesex” is the last chapter of the Book Four titled “The Last Stop.” The title of the chapter refers, mostly, to the present-day narration of Cal about his relationships with Julie. Actually, the woman wonders whether she is the last stop for him or not and gets the positive answer. As for Mawer’s novel, all the chapters’ titles there are referred to genetics; for example, the Chapter One is called “Genome.” It tells about the speech of the professor Lambert, who is a dwarf himself, before the representatives of the Mendel Symposium. The title is “Genome” because the speaker focuses on the Mendel’s genius of genetics. Moreover, he points to people’s unfair attitude toward dwarfs. The Chapter Two, titled “Mutation,” narrates about Dr. Lambert walking along Husova and encountering the Mendel’s statue. While wandering, he meditates upon his nature as a result of some unexpected mutation of only one gene absent in his parents. He says, “I couldn’t have come from them without a mutation” (Mawer, 2011).
The depiction of genetics in both novels affects the society greatly. For instance, together with the account of Dr. Lambert’s life, Mawer’s book researches the current topic thoroughly and elucidates the main genetics problems. It is no wonder that all the chapters of the novel bear the titles like “Genome,” “Mutation” or “Pedigree.” Mawer’s novel includes much data concerning Mendel’s experiments as an explanation to Lambert’s lab work. The understanding of genetics in “Mendel’s Dwarf” does not fully remove the perplexity concerning achondroplasiac people. However, the human relationships are acceptable in this case, but admixed with the sense of guilt. As for the “Middlesex”, genetics and science are the major topics there which are depicted through the lens of Cal’s comprehension. The novel contains flashbacks to old times when people did not know anything about science and made great mistakes like incest. Understanding of genetics at the present time as means of profit makes Cal the valuable lab specimen while the lack of understanding science in the past made people ignorant. For example, Desdemona attempted to predict the gender of Tessie’s future baby with a silver spoon. Nevertheless, both in the past and at present, most people consider hermaphrodites as unnatural and abnormal phenomena.
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The role and depiction of the past in both novels enriches its intriguing contents. The description of the past in “Mendel’s Dwarf” is important as it explains Dr. Lambert’s prenatal condition and childhood as well as refers to his great-granduncle Mendel’s valuable scientific studies. Lambert’s narration about present-day events is mixed with his memories about his childhood and youth. Therefore, he tries to discover the reasons for his gene mutation, which is actually difficult to establish. The depiction of the past in Mawer’s novel is significant for explaining the events preceding Cal’s birth as a hermaphrodite. Each chapter begins with the main hero’s narration at present which flows into the account of the past events of his/her forebears. It is his grandparents’ incest that made Cal a gene carrier of hermaphroditism.
The main characters of the novels are freaks and heroes at the same time. Dr. Lambert is a great scientist of his time that manages to accept his dwarfism as something normal as a birth-mark at times. Despite the fact that he feels optimistic over his place in this world, his quest for the sense of self remains unresolved. Meantime, Lambert feels himself miserable realizing that people often regard him as some exotic animal. His love story is doomed to fail as well as the life of his child. Calliope/Cal in “Middlesex” is born as a girl and only later she discovers her/his hermaphroditism. As a result, he flees the doctors and decides to stay a male. His quest for self seems to be solved as finally he becomes contented with his representation as a male. Cal also finds relief in his relationships with Julie, which can be regarded as Cal’s happy ending.
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To conclude, genetics is already a traditional in literature topic. “Mendel’s Dwarf” and “Middlesex” are outstanding novels related to science. The main heroes of both compositions are victims of genetic mutations. Each of them has their own quests for the sense of self and own history. Hermaphrodite Cal seems to finally find self-determination while optimistic dwarf Lambert has to fail.