What are the major themes and concerns that run through ‘Middlemarch’?

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mstokes | College Teacher | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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Middlemarch’s subtitle is “A Study of Provincial Life” and the novel explored the characteristics of ordinary people and their choices in life, and through their voices and opinions we are made aware that there are positive and negative characteristics in everyone. Eliot manages to draw the reader into her composition, and to view the variety of people in the world with compassion and laughter.

One major theme explored is the difficulties and imperfections within marriage

Middlemarch offers an unflinching critique of the usual portrayal of marriage as romantic and unproblematic. Most characters in Middlemarch marry for love , yet marriage still appears negative and unromantic. In Middlemarch unlike in many novels of the time, marriage is not considered the ultimate source of happiness. Two examples are the failed marriages of Dorothea and Lydgate. In the character of Dorothea Brooke, the reader is introduced to an intelligent, wealthy young woman who aspires to do great work in her life. Dorothea is an excessively religious girl who withdraws from the activities she likes most, and convinces herself to marry a man, Mr. Casaubon, who cannot satisfy her. Her marriage fails because of her youth and of her disillusions about marrying a much older man, while Lydgate’s marriage fails because of irreconcilable personalities. The Bulstrodes also face a marital crisis due to his inability to tell her about the past, and Fred Vincy and Mary Garth also suffer hardship.

Social Expectations

The ways in which people conduct themselves and how the community judges them are closely linked in Middlemarch. When the expectations of the social community are not met, individuals often are criticised.This is evident when the community judges Ladislaw harshly because of his mixed pedigree. Fred Vincy is nearly disowned because he chooses to go against his family’s wishes and not join the clergy. It is only when Vincy goes against the wishes of the community that he finds true love and happiness. Rosamond’s need for gentility and the desire to live up to social standards becomes her downfall. In contrast, Dorothea’s decision to act against the rules of society allows her to emerge as the most respectable characterat the conclusion.

You could also look at the theme of Self-Determination vs. Chance