What does Chapter Eleven mean?
Dear Jeffrey Eugenides,
I am confused about why you refer to Cal's brother as Chapter Eleven, yet at other times you refer to him by his given name?
— Stacy S.
Cal, the narrator of Middlesex, never refers to Chapter Eleven by his given name. Neither does anyone in the book. The nickname, "Chapter Eleven," is bestowed on Cal's brother by Cal himself, retroactively, in the act of writing the book. If you can find a place where Chapter Eleven is called something else, Stacy, let me know, but I'd be very surprised. His "given name" is something I didn't give the reader.
As for the meaning of the nickname, that's another story. The character of Chapter Eleven is introduced in the first pages of the novel but it's not until page 512 that Cal provides clues as to what this name means. There's a long passage where Cal sketches what will happen to his brother in the years to come, but, unlike just about every other Stephanides family story, Cal elects not to go into it. Still, the hints are there and include the maxing out of credit cards, etc., all of which point to a situation that might involve something known in U.S. tax law as Chapter 11.
By the way, Stacy, your question is the question I get asked most often by readers of the book. The name "Chapter Eleven" really confuses people in Europe and Asia, as you might imagine. (No one files for Chapter 11 in Japan.) In some cases, Germany, for instance, where I know the language, I've worked with my translators to come up with an alternative. In the German edition of Middlesex, Chapter Eleven is called Der Pleitegeier. This refers to the circling buzzard that presages doom, usually of the financial variety.
— Jeffrey Eugenides