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Daniel Deronda | Motifs

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Gambling

Gambling is a recurring motif in the novel, which opens with Gwendolen gambling at roulette. She is winning, but when she sees Deronda watching her critically she begins to lose quite a bit of money. She gambles again when she marries Grandcourt and loses that bet as well. She thinks she will be able to rule him but learns in short order she is to be ruled by him. As time goes on, Gwendolen finds herself continually gambling with Grandcourt, hoping not to lose in their battle of wills: "It was all a part of that new gambling, in which the losing was not simply a minus, but a terrible plus." Gwendolen's gambling comes up several times in conversations with Deronda, and he explains to her why he dislikes gambling—because one person's gain is another's loss. People should not create further occasions for pitting their winning against another's losing. Mrs. Glasher is one of those losers. She gambled by taking Grandcourt as a lover and thought he would marry her once her husband died, but he instead has married Gwendolen.

Other instances of gambling—or the results of gambling—occur in the novel. Gwendolen's family loses their money because of the irresponsible speculation of Grapnell & Co., which is either a bank or an investment firm. The narrator draws a parallel between Gwendolen's gambling and the fall of her family fortunes: "Gwendolen ... brought from her ... experience a[n] impression that in this ... world it signified nothing what any one did, so that they amused themselves." The narrator here says that Gwendolen is under the impression the consequences or moral weight of her actions do not matter. Rather, what is important is to have a good time. This judgment is followed by a judgment of the company responsible for her impoverishment: "Certain persons, mysteriously symbolized as Grapnell & Co. ... bent on amusing themselves, no matter how, had brought about a painful change in her family circumstances." Thus, Eliot pronounces an unmistakable judgment against the immorality of gambling. Mirah and Mordecai's father is also a gambler—a compulsive gambler who destroys his family with his bad habit, then comes back to his children in London and ends up stealing Deronda's ring. Grandcourt gambles by taking out a sailboat with Gwendolen, even though he most likely cannot swim, never thinking he might fall overboard and drown.

Serpent and Devil

Two related motifs in the novel are the serpent and the devil. When the reader first meets Gwendolen, she is dressed in a costume of green and silver that makes her look something like a serpent, according to people who are looking at her in the casino. Mr. Vandernoodt even opines that "a man might risk hanging" for such a serpent. Grandcourt is also referred to as a serpent. When Gwendolen finds herself imprisoned with Grandcourt on the yacht, the narrator says it was no use quarreling with him. Gwendolen "might as well have made angry remarks to a dangerous serpent ornamentally coiled in her cabin without invitation." Grandcourt is also referred to as a lizard on several occasions—his eyes are lizard-like, and he is cold-blooded like a lizard. Gwendolen is referred to as demonic on several occasions, and early on the reader learns she wrung the neck of her sister's canary because it was competing with her singing. Deronda tells Sir Hugo gambling brought out "something of the demon" in Gwendolen, and Lapidoth's obsession with gambling is later referred to as demonic. Deronda notices Gwendolen's "demonic force" again when she greets people after her marriage to Grandcourt, seemingly from inside a mask. He muses whether her demonic force had come out to meet the one in her husband. Toward the end of the novel, Gwendolen's thoughts about killing Grandcourt are referred to as "demon-visits" and "demon-faces" in the clouds.

The Wanderer

The image of the wanderer recurs throughout the novel, which bears some relation to the story of the "Wandering Jew" said to be doomed to wander the earth until the second coming of Jesus Christ. The Wandering Jew symbolizes a judgment of Christians upon the Jews. But in real life Jews have been forced to wander, driven out of their homeland first by the Babylonians and then by the Romans. After their expulsion, the Jews populated almost every country in Europe. Their history of persecution also meant they were often driven from one country to another in search of acceptance and refuge. For example, Deronda's people on his father's side are Spanish Jews who were driven out during the persecutions of the Spanish Inquisition at the end of the 15th century and ended up settling in Genoa. Joseph Kalonymos—who calls himself a wanderer because he travels frequently around Europe and to the East—tells Deronda how the Jewish people in Italy were invited to Mainz, Germany, by Emperor Charlemagne.

Mirah is another wanderer, coming to London in search of her mother and brother and ending up at the river intending to drown herself. When Deronda first brings her to the Meyricks, he thinks of her as "a poor wanderer," and she gives herself the same name when she introduces her brother to Mrs. Meyrick. After Deronda meets Kalonymos, he feels he has been a member of the wrong tribe of wanderers and has now found the tents of his rightful people.

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