Many people ask why Cal called his brother Chapter Eleven - I think the reference is to the fact his brothe put the hot dog business under or bankrupt which is when you file for a Ch. 11. I have looked on the internet and I can find no other idea to this reference other than the bankruptcy of the hot dog stands by the brother.
I just started this book today, and am very intrigued by the reference to Chapter Eleven. I have a sneaking suspicion this reference is to Hebrew's in the Bible. I only have this feeling, becuase we have Uncle Pete who is a proponent of the "Great Book" which I assume is the Bible, we also have lots of references to the family being devout Greek Orthodox. I probably can't give you a verse to connect this with but it is a thought. Happy reading.
The playful symbolism is obvious - Cal's brother is born in Chapter 11 and presumably files for Chapter 11 when the hot dog stands go under - but what I could not figure out about it is why Eugenides use the clever nickname in the first place. It is really unlike anything else he does in the book; I feel like it belongs in a Robbins or Bukowski novel but not here - although I'm sure there is a good reason for it and I just cannot figure it out.
I thought that since his father spoke very little Greek and he wanted to give his son a Greek name and chose one whose English translation was chapter 11. Kind of how the author keeps refering to Lefty as "Lefty" and not the long Greek name that he actually has.
His brother was named after the 11th chapter of the Hebrew great book. If you look into this chapter of the book, you will find out that his actual name is Isaiah, though it is never spelled out for the reader.
Great discussion though, and interesting thoughts as to other reasons for the nickname.
I am on p. 347, and I was SURE that I had missed something. I'm happy that no one else knows why Cal's brother was referred to as "Chapter Eleven". Now, I don't have to go back and reread the beginning of the book!
The book is supposedly a memoir written by the adult Cal whilst she is stationed in Berlin as a diplomat and in it she protects the identity of two people, namely her brother, "Chapter 11", and a girlfriend who is the object of her lustful infatuation, referred to only as "The Obscure Object", in the event that the book is ever published. Eugenides explains in the novel that the "Obscure Object" reference comes from a French movie called "The Obscure Object of Desire", but he never explains why the brother is referred to only as Chapter 11. I have two thoughts about it. 1. I seem to recall that the sexologist, Dr Luce, wrote a book about Cal and her family's history of hermaphroditism. I thought that perhaps her brother was the subject of Chapter 11 of his book. 2. We are told that her brother ran the hot-dog stand business into the ground and bankrupted it within five years of taking the business over. That could also explain the Chapter 11 reference.
The author's choice not to make this reason explicit was a bad one. The very nature of the narrative is an introspective one. Cal's prerogative is to reveal truths, shed light, unburden, make sense, draw threads through the Stephanides' family history. There's a self-awareness throughout about the myth-making, imagining, inventions, suppositions in her tale. None of the epic history is given without a context; in fact, Cal goes to great lengths to provide an extremely thorough context, whether it's the Greek/Turkish war, or Detroit's socio-economic condition, or the prevalence of liquor bootlegging. So it's completely out of character for a nickname to be used with no explanation. One sentence early on, an acknowledgement that it's a nickname, a statement that Cal wishes to protect the brother's identity, would have relieved reader's curiousity throughout the book. It's a distraction throughout. It's cumbersome. And it adds very little in terms of characterization. In the big picture, the bankruptcy of the family business symbolizes something more than the brother's ineptitude, and pertains very little to the more central story of Cal's sexual identity. So my conclusion: bad choice by the author. A gimmick that doesn't pay off.
I was a little disappointed to read Eugenides' statement that Chapter Eleven refers to the fact that he eventually bankrupted the business. It seems a little too hard and unforgiving for Cal to call him this, and it doesn't fit the sense of generosity that Eugenides shows to all his characters. I picked up on the hint near the end of the book when Cal mentions this about his future but was hoping I was wrong. I kind of like other posters' explanations better: the book of Hebrews or the 11th chapter of the novel. That was my first thought, but the chapters weren't numbered, so I'm glad other readers were less lazy that I am and actually counted them! I'd prefer to think it was one of these latter reasons.