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In Middlemarch by George Eliot, class and gender determine the circumstances within which the protagonist Dorothea must act. The narrator describes Dorothea in the following terms:
For a long while she had been oppressed by the indefiniteness which hung in her mind, like a thick summer haze, over all her desire to make her life greatly effective. What could she do, what ought she to do? – she, hardly more than a budding woman, but yet with an active conscience and a great mental need, not to be satisfied by a girlish instruction comparable to the nibblings and judgments of a discursive mouse. (1.3.13)
A well-bred girl such as Dorothea could not, for example, become a member of the clergy or a doctor or in fact become involved in any active profession aimed at alleviating the needs of the poor or unfortunate. Because she lacks the education available to men, she cannot become a scholar like Causabon, or even help him in his work. If she had been a poor woman, she would have been occupied in useful and necessary work, but as an upper middle class woman, she had no need to do anything practical and so is restless and unhappy until in her second marriage she finally is able to become a partner with a husband who is active in social justice issues.
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