“Your pier-glass or extensive surface of polished steel made to be rubbed by a housemaid, will be minutely and multitudinously scratched in all directions; but place now against it a lighted candle as a centre of illumination, and lo! The scratches will seem to arrange themselves in a fine series of concentric circles round the little sun. It is demonstrable that the scratches are going everywhere impartially, and it is only your candle which produces the flattering illusion of a concentric arrangement, its light falling with an exclusive optical selection. These things are a parable. The scratches are events, and the candle is the egoism of any person now absent—of Miss Vincy, for example.” (Chapter 27, pp. 194-5)
The pierglass analogy is Eliot’s most famous metaphor for her favorite theme of egoism. It illustrates, as she points out, that we interpret all things with a bias as long as we only use the light of our selfishness to see by. The example introduced is Rosamond Vincy, who like a child, cannot imagine anything apart from her own interests or viewpoint.
Social Web and the Underground River
Social web and the underground river are two metaphors for society. Many times Eliot compares society to a web woven together from various strands of different lives. In her narrative she shows the interrelations of characters through the intersecting and complicating plot lines. Everyone is related to the Vincys, for example. These are the visible lines. Then there are the hidden connections that come to light such as Ladislaw’s with Bulstrode’s. Lydgate, feeling aloof from the town when he arrives, gets hopelessly tangled in this web, with Rosamond and Bulstrode’s scandal.
Another metaphor for the silent workings of society is the underground river that nourishes, exemplified in Dorothea and any loving person who puts the needs of others first. This quotation about Dorothea illustrates the metaphor: “For there is no creature whose inward being is so strong that it is not greatly determined by what lies outside it . . . Her full nature, like that river of which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive; for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts, and that things are not so ill with you and me as thy might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”
Mr. Garth is another example of someone who works quietly in the background, generously giving more than is expected of him to insure life goes on smoothly around him.
Character Cut in Stone
“Character is not cut in marble—it is not something solid and unalterable. It is something living and changing, and may become diseased as our bodies do,” says Farebrother. This is an excellent metaphor because it is true for those characters who are still alive! Many, like Mr. Casaubon, suffer precisely because they insist on being cut of stone, unable to change. Both Dorothea and her husband begin as egoists in their own worlds, but Dorothea is not cut in stone and quickly learns from her experience, while Casaubon’s rigidity literally kills him.
Middlemarch: Metaphor Analysis