Middlemarch: Chapters 56-57

Chapters 56-57 (Progress)

The railroad has come to Middlemarch. Many are frightened by this sign of progress. One farmworker says the railroad will only leave the poor farther behind: “This is the big folks’s world, this is.” Garth surveys the property where it will go through and finds the local people attacking the railroad agents. He and his assistant, Tom, with the help of Fred Vincy on horseback, drive off the attackers.
Fred tells Caleb Garth that he and Mary love each other but that Mary will not marry him if he enters the church because she knows he doesn’t want that. He asks to be Caleb’s assistant. Caleb decides to take him on and make a man of him. He explains to his dubious wife that it is the duty of the elders to teach the young. Mrs. Garth tells Fred that Farebrother also loves Mary, and this is a shock to him, that his rival is the friend who pleaded his suit to her.
Meanwhile, the Vincys are disappointed in having spent the money to educate Fred only to see him step down socially by working for Garth. Vincy is further upset by his son-in-law, Lydgate, whom he knows to be deeply in debt.
In many ways, the farmworker is right. Progress is a game for the big folks, and the poor are left behind. That is the importance of reform, trying to keep up with “progress” to keep society on an even keel.
Fred’s step down will actually be his salvation, though his family is concerned with appearances.