Latimer might seem completely unlike most of George Eliot's other characters due to his supposed "psychic" abilities. Regardless, he reflects Eliot's continual interest in the frequent failure of human sympathy and communication. His repulsion at the self-interested natures of other people may appear overdone and somewhat naive, and he has impressed some critics as one of Eliot's least likeable creations. Bertha is similar to some other Eliot creations, such as Rosamund Vincy in Middlemarch —both are beautiful, narcissistic women who hold a fascination for certain men, to the great regret of these men later.
The story demonstrates Eliot's interest in contemporary science and pseudoscience, including physiology, phrenology, mesmerism and clairvoyance. While today's readers might smile at the idea of a simple blood transfusion bringing the dead back to life, Eliot manages this scene with impressive style and force. She handles Latimer's vision sequences with a similar drive and attention to detail.