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The Mill on the Floss is regarded as the most autobiographical novel of George Eliot which reflects her early childhood memories and her own relationship with her father and brother Isaac. The reader is able to see many examples and similarities between Eliot’s own life and the character of Maggie. She is like the character of Maggie Tulliver who constantly seeks the approval and love of her father and also her brother. The novel is different from other novels in terms of its narration. Because there is a narrator in The Mill on the Floss who comments on the characters or on the actions of these characters. She also provides detailed descriptions of psychological insides of the characters. By making this extensive use of direct address to comment on the action or on the characters, the narrator tries to convey the complexities of human life to the reader. In other words, she wants the reader to sympathize with other people’s feeling. This essay examines the characters of Maggie and Tom in detail. Also, it analyzes the novel in terms of its major themes such as revenge, sympathy, and sacrifice. Lastly, it makes a criticism of the end of the novel.
From the very beginning of the novel, it can be seen that Tom and Maggie are quite different almost in every respect. Maggie is an impulsive girl who does not consider the consequences of her actions. However, Tom is a boy who is extremely practical and rational. For instance, the scene in which Tom comes home is especially important because it shows the fact that Maggie and Tom have totally different personalities. At some point, Maggie asks Tom:
“If there came a lion roaring at me, I think you’d fight with him – wouldn’t you, Tom?”
Tom says: “How can a lion come roaring at yoıu, you silly thing? There’s no lions, only in the shows.”
Once more, Tom proves how practical and direct he is. He has no imagination at all to make up these stories. Because he lacks these skills, he cannot even speculate over stories like this one. Tom can only find solutions and fix the problems. If there is a problem, he is the one who fixes these problems. However, Maggie is not like that. Maggie is a girl who is highly imaginative and intellectual. Maggie is fond of reading a variety of books whereas Tom does not like reading at all. When she is a little girl, her mother asks Maggie to obey the rules of the society by asking her to put the bonnet on and do patchwork. Soon after this, she cuts her hair. By doing so, she announces her rebellious character from the very beginning of the novel. She definitely does not like following the rules of the society as her brother does. Tom is obedient to the rules of the church and also to the rules of her father. Maggie also constantly wants to be loved and appreciated by Tom. However, Tom’s affection is never enough for her. Tom does not show his affection to Maggie in the way that she wants. There is a baby doll in the attic whenever she feels sad or miserable, she goes to the attic and punishes the doll. This thing indicates the fact that she is a person who acts through her emotions. She is not as rational as her brother. The reason why Maggie makes mistakes most of the time is that she acts without considering the consequences of her actions. But still, the moment she realizes her mistakes, she regrets. Due to the fact that Tom does not act all of a sudden, he never regrets. Mr. Tullivar wants Tom to receive a further education but the kind of education that actually Maggie should have received. Because Latin and geometry are not the subjects that Tom should be learning. This knowledge will not useful to him especially when he starts running the mill. Tom is not interested in learning languages like Maggie. He has practical skills and his mind is more business like. When it comes to Maggie, she is an intellectual girl who loves reading books, listening music and studying in Latin as well. When Maggie and Philip see each other secretly, Tom asks Maggie to stop seeing Philip anymore. Hence, it can be said that he is a traditional boy who follows the strict codes of behavior in Victorian Age. When his father loses the case, he is the one who is going to take care of the Mill and the house as the man of the house. Even though he is 16 years old, he is highly decisive and mature. He tries to find ways to pay the money that his father owes and get back the mill. For this reason, it can be said that he is good at problem-solving and planning what to do next. He is an obedient boy who does his best to help his family and look after his mother and sister. It can be said that he handles such a family crisis very well considering his age. In such a crisis, he acts like a leader. It is evident that he wants to be seen as the authority figure in the house. This is the attitude of the time. When Mr. Tulliver loses the case, Maggie is not expected to work. On the contrary, she has to be saved from this situation by a male figure. Women do not receive formal education, therefore they are not respected to work in the mill. According to the Victorian society, women simply do not belong to the work life or education. For these reasons, Tom is the one who starts working to pay the debts that his father cost. Maggie is just opposite of her brother. She is portrayed as a woman who is full of life and curiosity. She also seems like a person who is hungry for knowledge, affection, and approval. All things considered, Maggie and Tom are brother and sister who present completely opposing character from each other.
From the very beginning of the novel, the reader can see how the theme of revenge and gender roles have an essential role in the novel. When Mr. Tulliver loses the case because of Mr. Wakem, Mr. Waken buys the mill and even asks Mr. Tulliver to manage the land and the mill. Because of the fact that Mr. Tulliver is highly proud men, he is hurt by this incident. That’s why, he even tells his son to write in the bible that he will take his father’s revenge from lawyer Wakem. In such a situation, how come Maggie can talk to Philip? She is not free to talk to him especially because his father and also his brother will be very angry. It is clear that she has to obey the patriarchal society which is illustrated by Mr. Tulliver and Tom. Although she is quite aware of the fact that her father and especially her brother will disapprove her friendship with Philip, she still continues meeting with Philip secretly. Despite all the forbidden rules, Philip insists on seeing Maggie. His father also will not approve these secret meetings. Maggie tells Philip that she will never do anything to hurt her father or break his heart. She tells these things because Maggie is not there as herself. She is the daughter of Mr. Tulliver. Hence, this can be seen as a criticism of gender roles. The novel emphasizes the idea that people cannot act against the forces of the environment. If someone does anything against these forces like Maggie, they are eventually punished. There are some environmental forces which shape her character. Although she is not an ordinary Victorian girl, she still does not act against the environment in which she is born. By running away with Stephen, she does very briefly but then she comes back. When Stephen wants to elope with Maggie and never come back, she cannot stop thinking about Lucy and Philip. Besides, Maggie does not want to break Lucy’s, Philip’s heart and especially her family. One of the most important themes of the novel is sympathy. Because of her sympathy, Maggie decides to leave Stephen and go back to her family. She sympathizes with Lucy and Philip and thinks that she cannot hurt these people. Her conflict is whether to go after passion or duty. She chooses the duty. When she comes back her home, Tom refuses to accept back her to the family. He even refuses to talk to her.
It will not be wrong to say that the end of the novel is quite tragic. Maggie and Tom die in the river by drowning. The reader can recognize the fact that Maggie always follows her own decisions. At the end of the novel, she is still the same. She decides to save her brother and sacrifice her own life and future as a woman. She could have just saved herself and leave Tom to death. But still, she resolves not to do so. Their childhood memories are repeated in the course of the narration. The beginning of the novel starts with childhood memories. Similarly, the end of the novel repeats these memories. In the death scene, Tom begins to call Maggie as he used to say in their childhood. At this moment, Maggie feels very relieved because, for quite a long time, there is a kind of trouble in their relationship. Throughout the novel, Tom is a strong character who performs all the duties belonging to a child. He is the perfect, and obedient child. But at the end, Maggie is the strong one. The reader can see the fact that Maggie has the power at the end of the novel. With an effort, she tries to save her brother. She definitely does not give in. She even says to her brother:
“We will go to Lucy, Tom: we’ll go and see if she is safe, and then we can help the rest.”
Not only Maggie wants to save her brother, but also, she wants to save everybody else. Therefore, it can be said that she is very heroic in that sense. Consequently, due to the fact that two people die very young, the novel has a sad and tragic ending.
In briefly, The Mill on the Floss gives an excellent insight to the narrator’s own life. Reading this work as an autobiographical novel makes the story more remarkable and impressive. Although Maggie does not like to follow the rules of the society, at the end, she still chooses her duty as her priority. Whether Maggie is a tragic character or not is still a controversial point, but still, it is evident that her death is quite tragic.
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