Study Guide

Daniel Deronda Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

Advertisement - Guide continues below

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory


What's up with all the bling this novel? From Gwendolen's turquoise necklace to Lydia Glasher's diamonds to Daniel's diamond ring, jewelry turns up over and over again in Daniel Deronda. The jewelry isn't just there as details to tell us how glam everyone looks, though. Jewelry seems to take a real front and center role in this book – these are memorable pieces that appear in key scenes. So why all the fuss about everyone's icing?

For one thing, the key pieces of jewelry that we see in this novel tell us a lot about the ways that certain characters relate to one another. In fact, sometimes pieces of jewelry create ties between two characters that didn't even exist before. Let's start with Gwendolen's turquoise necklace, which she pawns off in Leubronn when she finds out that her family has lost all of their money. Up until this point, she hasn't really spoken to Daniel Deronda all that much – as far as she's concerned, he's just that guy who seemed to look at her disapprovingly while she was gambling. Then, he sees her pawn her necklace, buys it from the pawnbroker, and returns it to her with a cheeky little note. Even though Daniel's note is anonymous, his act of returning her necklace makes their relationship way more personal. She can't act casually around him anymore – he knows way too much about her now.

Lydia Glasher's diamonds create a whole bunch of drama for Gwendolen. Grandcourt once gave Lydia his family diamonds as a gift when he was still in love with her. Later, he made her promise to give them back when he got married. Lydia gives Gwendolen the diamonds as a terrifying wedding present, complete with a note telling Gwendolen what a terrible person she is and how she'll never be happy. Lydia's diamonds create a silent drama between Gwendolen and Grandcourt; she doesn't want to wear them because they seem hateful to her. She wants to wear the turquoise necklace instead. What is interesting is how the diamonds cause Gwendolen to think about all the bad things she has done – she gets way more blame for her actions than Grandcourt gets for his. The diamonds reveal a lot about the love triangle going on here. We don't just learn about how Grandcourt relates to the two women in his life; we also see a tense, stressful relationship carved out between the two women themselves.

Daniel's diamond ring, finally, creates a relationship between himself and his birth family that he didn't even know existed. When he goes to visit his birth mother, she tells him that the ring he is wearing once belonged to his father. He has never met his dad before – heck, he always thought Sir Hugo was his father – but all of a sudden he finds out about this relation who is dead and gone, but he still has a ring that belonged to him. So there you have it – jewelry isn't just there to make these characters look good; it ties them to one another in complicated ways.


Hmm, a story of someone finding out he's Jewish and going on to fight for the rights of his people, even though he didn't totally relate to them before. Sound familiar? Well, this story didn't just begin with Daniel Deronda. If you're even a little familiar with the Torah or the Old Testament of the Bible, or seen a little (as in three hours long) Charlton Heston movie called The Ten Commandments, then you've probably heard the story of Moses. If not, here's a quick version of Biblical history:

Way, way back in the day, the Pharaoh of Egypt (that is, the big guy in charge – the Egyptians believed that the Pharaoh was both part king and part god) heard a prophecy that a Hebrew child was going to be born who would deliver all of the Jews, who were at the time forced into slavery, out of Egypt. The Pharaoh was like, "Oh man, this is not good for me." Then he had an idea: if he made sure that all the male Hebrew children were murdered, then nobody would grow up to deliver the Hebrew nation, and the Pharaoh would still have plenty of slaves to do everything for him. Bingo.

Moses' mom didn't want her newborn son to be murdered, so to give him a chance at life she sent him down the Nile River in a basket (which we assume was very waterproof). The Pharaoh's daughter found him and raised him as the Prince of Egypt. Moses was raised alongside his sort-of cousin, the Pharaoh's son, who would go on to inherit the throne – the Grandcourt to Moses' Daniel if you will. Later, Moses' real identity was revealed. He was actually not Egyptian, but Hebrew (that is, Jewish). When the big secret came out, the Pharaoh cast Moses out. After wandering in the desert for a long time, Moses then came back and delivered the Jews out of slavery and out of Egypt. (Of course, this is just a quick version of the events as they're written.)

OK, so back to Daniel Deronda. While Daniel's mom didn't give him up to save his life, she did partially give him up in order to make sure that he didn't live his life with a Jewish identity – just like Moses' mother did with her own son. Like Moses, Daniel wasn't raised to sympathize with the Jewish faith or the people who practice it. Still, both men become leaders of a sort – Moses leads the Jews out of Egypt; Daniel plans to travel east in order to try to start a Jewish nation. From their hidden births to their mysterious identities to the huge tasks they take on, Moses and Daniel definitely resonate with one another.

The Stage

Performance seems to be a pretty big deal in Daniel Deronda – we mean, even every party seems to feature someone sitting down at the piano and singing, for crying out loud. Beyond that, though, we see three different women – Mirah, Daniel's mother, and Gwendolen – have very different relationships to life on the stage. When we first meet Mirah, we learn that she was stolen away by her father at a young age and was forced to perform onstage against her will as an actress and singer. She hated this way of life, and getting away from it was one of several reasons why she ran away.

Gwendolen's relationship towards the stage is totally different. She needs to make some money for her family – and fast. She doesn't want to have to marry Grandcourt. Plus, she's gotten a few compliments on her mad acting skills during a game of charades, so she figures she must have what it takes to be the next it-girl. Klesmer swiftly squashes her dreams, telling her that her acting is mediocre at best – for an amateur. In fact, he tells her that she could maybe try to pay to be allowed on stage. Harsh. Gwendolen's perspective of the stage is a romanticized one. She is so used to being admired by the people around her in everyday life – of course she'll be a natural on the stage! She'll just make money by being admired by her adoring fans…right.

Princess Alcharisi, a.k.a. Leonora Halm-Eberstein, a.k.a. Daniel's mom, is also an actress. She had what it took to make it on the stage, but her father didn't want her to be an actress because he didn't want her to display herself. For her, being on the stage wasn't just about making money; it was about rebelling against a tyrannical father. These three examples are all strikingly different, but they tell us a great deal about these characters: we don't only about them characters as individuals, but also as examples of the very limited options open to women in the Victorian era.

Death by Water

Not to be totally morbid, but after reading a lot of books and seeing a lot of movies and TV shows, we know that writers have always come up with really creative ways for characters to kick the bucket. Drowning comes up more than once in Daniel Deronda. Now, George Eliot is a totally talented writer and definitely had the creative chops to come up with more than one way for characters to go. It seems like it could have been a very deliberate choice for her to bring up drowning not once but twice.

Just to recap, the first time we encounter drowning is when Daniel first meets Mirah. He's just rowing along one day when he sees Mirah soak her cloak in water to make it heavy and get ready to wrap herself in it and jump in the river. He intervenes, saving her life. Much later in the novel, Grandcourt and Gwendolen go out in a sailboat. Grandcourt is being a big jerk. The wind changes, and when Grandcourt tries to turn the sail it knocks him into the water. Gwendolen watches him drown.

We're not saying that there's any one definitive way to guess why Eliot brings up death by water twice – only she would know that and, uh, we can't ask her (isn't that always the problem?). Even so, the repetition of this image pushes us to become detectives and compare and contrast the two scenes. Think of metaphors and images as our clues. When we look at things from this perspective, we see a few different explanations bubble to the surface (sorry, we had to).

First of all, we think about the people who die (or, in Mirah's case, attempt to die). Take Mirah. She's good, sweet, and loving. She's just horribly depressed because she doesn't know where she belongs and she thinks she's lost her family. Grandcourt, on the other hand, is a huge – well, the words we want to use would require some bleeping out. He's not a good person. In stark contrast to Mirah, he's hurt every person in his wake, only thinking about himself, and he's not even a little remorseful. In fact, he's totally satisfied with himself. Isn't there some justice in the fact that Mirah is saved and Grandcourt isn't? The trope of death by water seems to show how the universe gets involved to save the good and punish the wicked. For a novel largely concerned with religion, it's only natural that some battle of good versus evil should go down at some point.

Let's also keep in mind that the scenes of death by water also shed light on the people who watch everything go down. Daniel involves himself immediately in saving a woman that he doesn't even know – he calls out to her, startling her. He tells her that there is hope for her life to be better. Gwendolen, on the other hand, doesn't just know the person she watches drown – she's married to him. It's only after she knows it's too late for Grandcourt that she realizes the consequences of her inaction and jumps in the water after him. We're not trying to say that Daniel is bad and Gwendolen is good, but their actions here carve out their roles out a little bit more. Daniel is the deliverer not just of Mirah, but supposedly of the future of the Jewish nation. Gwendolen is powerless before Grandcourt drowns. She tries to exercise power by choosing not to save him immediately and she feels powerless once more after she realizes he is dead.

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...