George Eliot

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Themes and Colors
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Ambition and Disappointment Theme Icon
Community and Class Theme Icon
Progress and Reform Theme Icon
Money and Greed Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Middlemarch, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Women and Gender

George Eliot’s Middlemarch is set in a fictional Midlands town in the early nineteenth century, an environment in which typical gender roles are very are strictly enforced. While men are also expected to live up to gendered ideals, Middlemarch mostly focuses on the way that such expectations are particularly restrictive and suffocating for women. This is explored most notably through the novel’s central character, Dorothea Brooke, who dreams of a grand, intense, and meaningful…

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Ambition and Disappointment

The experience that unites all the characters in Middlemarch is disappointment. In the novel, disappointment is something that happens on both a broad scale (when one’s lifelong dreams and ambitions do not come to pass) and on a more minor, everyday level. Indeed, at one point the narrator observes: “We mortals, men and women, devour many a disappointment between breakfast and dinner-time.” This quotation indicates that disappointment is both a universal experience (it applies to…

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Community and Class

Rather than focusing on the lives of a small group of characters, Middlemarch is about an entire community: the fictional town of the novel’s title. Significantly, the book is also set thirty years before it was written, and is full of detail about this important, tumultuous period in English history. The novel’s subtitle, “A Study of Provincial Life,” indicates that the book intends to give readers a sense of what “provincial life” is like during…

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Progress and Reform

Middlemarch is set during a highly tumultuous time in English history, when dramatic developments in politics, science, and industrialization were having a major impact on the country. In the novel, “reform” has both a specific meaning and a more general one: specifically, it refers to the push for parliamentary reform that centered around the Reform Act of 1832. “Reform” also refers to more general changes in the novel, such as Lydgate’s passion for medical reform…

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Money and Greed

Both money and the lack of it cause many problems for the characters in Middlemarch. Some characters are obsessed with money, whereas others spurn it. The novel strongly indicates that it is better not to obsess over money and to focus on other forms of fulfilment. At the same time, it also becomes clear that it is impossible not to care about money at all. Not only is having some amount of money necessary…

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