Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

The Portrait of Ladislaw’s Grandmother

A miniature portrait of Ladislaw’s grandmother appears several times in the text and is symbolic of Dorothea’s future choice of giving up wealth for love. Ladislaw’s grandmother also gave up wealth to be with the man she loved. The portrait hangs in Dorothea’s bedroom at Casaubon’s house, and Dorothea often recalls the portrait when she thinks of Ladislaw. When Ladislaw comes to say goodbye to Dorothea in a tense conversation filled with romantic subtext, Dorothea offers him the portrait as a parting gift. When Ladislaw refuses it saying he has no need for the past, he indicates that the chance they will end up together remains.


The character of Raffles symbolizes the ominous return of the past. Most often he appears as a lone black figure walking down the country roads and is described as a man of ill-repute and questionable background, associating the danger of the past with the unsavory lower class. His repeated appearance disrupts the sanctity of Middlemarch, for he ties together the dark pasts of Bulstrode and Ladislaw. His death fuels neighborhood gossip that almost forces Ladislaw from town, causes Bulstrode’s downfall, and brings about the climax of the novel.