"'You have not made my life pleasant to me of late'-'the hardships which our marriage has brought on me'-these words were stinging his imagination as a pain makes an exaggerated dream (667)."
On the list of life's complexities, marriage, perhaps, reigns at the top. George Eliot's Middlemarch exhumes many of the complicated facets of marriage from a Victorian England milieu. Although the character spectrum in Middlemarch includes diversity in social class, the bulk of players are members of the aristocracy. Despite financial wealth, married women were bound to their husbands-Eliot employs the metaphor of the yoke to convey strict bondage to the spouse and domesticity. On the other hand, an aristocratic married couple was likely bound to material possessions; in the instance of Middlemarch, furniture serves as a complex motif. An analysis on the themes of yoke and furniture in Eliot's novel prompts several questions. What does the definition of yoke imply about the metaphor? Who bears the yoke in marriage? Who is concerned with furniture? What roles does furniture portray in Middlemarch? Finally, a comparative discussion on the ties between the yoke and furniture as burdens in marital relationships will conclude the argument.
The Oxford English Dictionary gives the primary definition of "yoke" as:
A contrivance, used from ancient times, by which two animals, esp. oxen, are coupled together for drawing a plough or vehicle; usually consisting of a somewhat curved or hollowed piece of wood fitted with 'bows' or hoops at the end which are passed round the animals' necks, and having a ring or hooks attached to the middle to which is fastened a chain or trace e...
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...ial status), some men, particularly Lydgate, were enslaved by their wife's emotions and demands. In regard to furniture, however, it was usually only wealthy men who lived beyond their means that were bound to debt, since they held sovereignty in decision-making. Comparing the motifs of the yoke and furniture in the novel is an intricate and interesting task because they are both tangible objects that represent metaphoric repression, burden, or anxiety.
Although George Eliot uses many rhetorical devices in Middlemarch, the clever employment of multi-faceted motifs was effective in conveying the underlying messages about women's rights and the burden of materialism.
Work Cited and Consulted:
Eliot, George. Middlemarch. 1871. London: Penguin, 1994.
Oxford English Dictionary. 1989. U of Oxford. 18 December 2002.
Princeton Text Archive. 18 December 2002.
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