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The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot: Summary, Analysis and Themes

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  • 0:00 The Mill On The Floss
  • 0:27 Maggie And Tom's Childhood
  • 2:01 Financial Problems
  • 3:09 Maggie Visits Lucy
  • 4:10 Analysis And Themes
  • 5:13 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

Maggie sacrifices love for family loyalty in George Eliot's (a.k.a. Mary Ann Evans) semi-autobiographical novel, ''The Mill on the Floss''. In this lesson, we will review this important work of English literature.

The Mill on the Floss

If you had to choose between the love of a lifetime and your relationship with your family, who would you pick? In The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot, the author draws on her own experiences when writing the tale of the complicated relationship between a young woman and her brother during a time when women had limited choices.

Let's find out more.

Maggie and Tom's Childhood

Protagonist Maggie Tulliver and Maggie's brother, Tom, have a very close relationship after growing up together at Dorlcote Mill on the River Floss. The mill has been in the family for generations, but Mr. Tulliver wants more for his son, Tom, so he sends Tom for formal schooling. Maggie is much more interested in learning than Tom is, but she adores him and wants him to do well. Tom also loves Maggie but is less considerate of her feelings. He believes he is doing her a favor by intending to always take care of her, make her his housekeeper, and punish her when she did wrong.

Tom goes away to school despite the objections of the extended family, but feels stupid because he has a hard time understanding Latin and he misses Maggie. When she comes to visit him, Maggie quickly picks up on Latin, but both Tom and his professor dismiss the prospect of a girl being able to learn like a man.

While Tom is away at school, his father battles with one of their neighbors over water rights. Mr. Tulliver's wife and sister both advise him to avoid going to court, but he doesn't listen to them. Mr. Wakem, the lawyer for the opposition sends his son - Phillip Wakem, who suffers a deformity to his spine - to Tom's school. While visiting Tom at his school, Maggie befriends Phillip Wakem, and the two become close. When Mr. Tulliver loses his lawsuit and plunges the family into bankruptcy, Tom is forced to leave school.

Financial Problems

Mr. Tulliver collapses and never quite returns to health after learning that the note on his mortgage was transferred to Mr. Wakem. Mr. Wakem employs Mr. Tulliver as a manager, which is humiliating to Mr. Tulliver. Tom is forced to sell off their furnishings and get a low-paying job with his uncle Dean to stay afloat.

To escape their lonely house, Maggie takes long walks. One day she encounters Phillip in the woods where he confesses his love for her. They meet in secret for over a year as to not reveal their relationship to her father, who has vowed revenge on the Wakems. Tom discovers their relationship and makes Maggie swear to never see Phillip again.

Tom repays all of his father's debt, but after making the final payment, Mr. Tulliver encounters Mr. Wakem and assaults him. The fight takes its toll and Mr. Tulliver dies the next day. On his deathbed Maggie asks if he forgives Mr. Wakem, to which Mr. Tulliver replies, ''No, my wench. I don't forgive him…''

Maggie Visits Lucy

Mrs. Tulliver becomes a housekeeper for Maggie's cousin Lucy. Lucy's suitor, Stephen Guest, reunites Maggie and Phillip Wakem. After much begging, Tom agrees that Maggie and Phillip can be friends. Phillip convinces his father to sell the mill back to Tom so that Phillip and Maggie can get married. However, Tom still disapproves.

Maggie and Stephen become attracted to each other, but Maggie pushes Stephen away because she doesn't want to hurt Lucy and Phillip. After leaving Stephen, Maggie is rebuked as a fallen woman by Tom and the rest of the town. Stephen's reputation is not affected.

Maggie decides to suffer alone as a consequence for the pain she has caused others. When the River Floss begins to flood, Maggie rows to the mill to rescue Tom. After the boat capsizes, Maggie and Tom make amends and then die in each other's arms. Their gravestone reads, ''In their death they were not divided.''

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