In her final novel, Daniel Deronda, Eliot portrays the complicated relationship between circumstance and power. Are we subject to circumstance, or do we choose the course of our lives? The novel follows the lives of two people as they struggle with the conflict of desire and circumstance. Gwendolen wants to gain independence from her family and her cruel husband, but she is forced into situations which make that independence almost unattainable. On the other hand Daniel wants to marry Mirah and become a disciple of Mordecai, but he is not a Jew and isn't able to do either.
The book describes the events of these two people's lives in their struggles to acheive what they want despite difficult circumstances. The question which Eliot is addressing is whether, under their own authority, they are able to achieve these things or not. In the case of Gwendolen, she never does accomplish her dreams during the book. All the positive things that happen to her are results of circumstance. For example, she is freed from her husband because he accidentally drowns. Unfortunately for her, she doesn't get to marry Daniel like she hoped because he ends up marrying Mirah. In much the same way, Daniel cannot magically become Jewish. That's just how he was born, with a certain lineage or not. All his desires are fulfilled in the end due to a bizarre and ironic twist of fate when he discovers that he is indeed Jewish. Again, he didn't accomplish anything to change the course of his fate.
As a result of the end of the novel, the reader can conclude that actually people cannot change their circumstances. Often praised for being a feminist novel, Daniel Deronda portrays Gwendolen as a strong, capable woman to be sure; however, the strength of her character is not demonstrated by any capability of hers to take charge of her life. In fact, the brand of empowerment that Eliot promotes relates to the way people make choices as a result of their lack of authority. Since a person cannot change their circumstances, they must choose how to react to them. This is the true test of character. When she learns that Daniel has married Mirah, Gwendolen doesn't despair. Instead, she sets her teeth and determines to make a good life for herself in another way. Daniel, too, demonstrates this resolution when Mordecai dies. Unable to be the master's disciple after all, he remains committed to learning the man's teachings. Eliot's novel describes the true nature of man's power of choice within his or her life.