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

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coachingcorner's profile pic

coachingcorner | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

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In the novel 'Middlemarch' by george Eliot, the author examines the themes and ideas of status, society, social climbing and the risks of all these motives in provincial life. many risks with home and security are taken by people on financial gambles - many are trying to 'keep up with the joneses' trying to go one better than their neighbours and risking all that they have already achieved. True love was often sacrificed in the last century to drive working hours harder and harder to make money for material things - so couple/family life was often damaged. Love and social ambition clash. These are the threads and themes to look for in the narrative and the dalog. Good luck.

scottangus's profile pic

scottangus | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 3) eNoter

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I would say an incredibly large theme within the novel is feminism. It is obvious that Eliot uses societies conventions to criticise patriarchy. Serveral themes to consider are:

  1. The relationship between Dorothea and Casaudon and the reasons they marry.
  2. Lydgate and Rosamond.

Are these marriages just? Are they fair to women? It would be interesting to consider these relationships.

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solana35's profile pic

solana35 | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) eNoter

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Interesting response, scottangus. Throughout the novel I kept wondering whether or not Eliot was incorporating a feminist message into the work. She does make fun of Celia's obsession with her (male) baby and we definitely empathize with Lydgate's frustration in dealing with Rosamond's childishness and manipulation. But Eliot also criticizes a few men for moral weakness (Casaubon, Bulstrode, Fred Vincy, Raffles) and for their belief that women are inferior (Mr. Brooke), and does portray a few women as strong models of virtue and effectiveness (Mrs. Garth, Mary, Dorothea). It's as if she is providing models for how women can be considered as worthwhile as men—and examples of what kinds of behaviors women engage in that keeps them back.

I'm a little puzzled, however, that Lydgate, who I believe Eliot portrayed as "one of the good ones," believed that his wife should be subservient to his will (even though he seemingly consults with her on their financial matters), and Dorothea, who Eliot idolizes to the point of comparing her to Theresa in the second volume, believes a wife's purpose is to act as helpmeet to her husband—even to the point of setting aside her own goals. The beliefs of these characters make me wonder if the novel is truly feminist. Maybe it was feminism as it was emerging in the 1800s, but not feminism as we know it today.

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