I share with you this sense of oppressive narrowness [of the Tullivers and Dodsons]; but it is necessary that we should feel it, if we care to understand how it acted on the lives of Tom and Maggie—how it has acted on young natures in many generations, that in the onward tendency of human things have risen above the mental level of the generation before them, to which they have been nevertheless tied by the strongest fibres of their hearts.

This quotation, from Chapter I of Book Fourth, illustrates George Eliot's conception of human progress as a struggle of individuals against formative forces, yet also remaining faithful to those formative forces. In order for humanity to progress, each generation must move beyond the generation before it. Here the influence of George Eliot's knowledge of natural history and Darwinism can be detected. Yet, Eliot adds a stipulation of her own—without continued connection to those outgrown generations, something spiritual is lost in the onward progression. Maggie suffers at the hands of her family's expectations in childhood, yet does not abandon these expectations or family members in her adulthood, instead heeding their call to duty, with an added capacity of feeling on her part.