74 pages 2 hours read

George Eliot

Daniel Deronda

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1876

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Character Analysis

Daniel Deronda

Content Warning: This section of the guide contains references to a suicide attempt and antisemitism and antisemitic language that feature in the source text.

Daniel Deronda, the protagonist of the novel, is a man who is shaped by his empathy. Unlike many of the more egoistical or self-serving characters, he is able to sympathize and empathize with everyone around him. This empathy creates a genuine desire within him to help others, such as when he sacrifices his own academic performance to help his sickly friend Hans. Later, he is willing to break social taboos to provide Gwendolen with emotional support and—when he finds Mirah about to drown herself on the bank of the Thames—he helps her find a home, her brother, and eventually a husband. Deronda is motivated by a genuine desire to help others. At the same time, however, helping others provides him with a useful distraction from questions about his past. Deronda is self-sacrificing as a means of soothing his own anxieties. Since he is unsure of where he comes from, helping others is a way to justify his lofty position in society, a privilege he is never sure he deserves. Deronda’s deeds are commendable but they speak to a deeper anxiety about his own past that he struggles to navigate.