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Isolation in George Eliot's novels James, David Lewis

Abstract

A constant theme in George Eliot's novels is the individual's struggle to find a place in the community, by learning his own limitations and overcoming them. She herself felt the isolation, caused by her 'conversion' from Christianity, from the past. Linked with this feeling of isolation from past traditions and beliefs is her concern for the individual's attaining a clear vision of reality here and now. Meaningful social relations are impossible while the individual is deluded about the nature of the real world. Contact between the self and the world is only possible when the individual sees the necessity to cast off selfish desires and lose himself in concern for others. This is frequently by means of a true marriage or a sound vocation. Chapter II (The Dreamer) shows how George Eliot's choice of subject matter, and insistence on the ordinary nature of common humanity, caused her to show up the prevailing vice, of romantic dreaming, of her heroines. Self-delusion based on wish-fulfillment is a vice she is particularly averse to. The dreamer is often associated with the child-like innocent, cut off from the adult world, and also with animals or birds, and thus cut off from the human world. In Chapter III (The Transgressor) we will see the way in which a guilty past is unsuccessfully concealed. The transgressor frequently attempts to live a lie, to deceive others and himself. This inhibits the free flow of human relationships and excludes him from acceptance in society. The transgressor is locked in with his own guilty secret and unable to make contact with those who are most willing to help him. In Chapter IV (The Tyrant) a further manifestation of isolation is seen in the desire for power over others. This is often seen subtly in the attitude of men towards women. In denying the individuality of women, the tyrant, in varying degrees, inhibits free relationship. Chapter V (The Idealist) deals with those who have vision and principles, but who have in some way been unable to relate these to the human context. The idealist is always shown to be in some way cut off from a realistic vision of himself or society. The final chapter deals with the moral norm representing clear vision, social and domestic harmony. The Church of England clergy and the mentor characters have the functions of humanizing the idealists, and broadening the vision of the egoists. In the novels the attainment of clear vision is always linked with a realistic adjustment to society, an awareness of the needs of others, and an attempt to understand their problems. This process frequently attains a semi-religious significance for George Eliot, and Christian parallels are often drawn. I shall trace this process whereby the individual learns to see himself and others in their true nature, and thus breaks through the wall of restricting vision, and either becomes integrated into society or rejected by it.

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