The Mill on the Floss

The Mill on the Floss


George Eliot

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The Mill on the Floss: Book 1, Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Maggie wants to go with Mr. Tulliver to fetch Tom from school, but Mrs. Tulliver protests that it is too rainy for a girl to go out in her best bonnet. Maggie dips her hair in water in rebellion, and Mrs. Tulliver complains that people will judge her for having such a naughty child. Maggie runs upstairs to the attic, which is her retreat where she goes to be alone. Her “Fetish” is using her doll as a voodoo doll to vent her rage. Today she pretends the doll is her Aunt Glegg, whom she hates.
Maggie clearly feels oppressed by conventional gender roles, which demand she be constantly neat, pretty, and well-behaved, as demonstrated by her rage at having to wear her hair in a bonnet. Her rebellious acts with her hair and use of a “Fetish” to vent her anger suggests that those same strictures make it very difficult for her to express her emotions in her everyday life.
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Maggie runs outside and enters the mill, where she loves to slide up and down the hay stacks. She talks to Luke, the head miller, and asks him whether he would like to borrow one of her books to learn about far-away people and animals, like Dutchmen and elephants. Luke responds that he doesn’t need to know anything more than what earns his daily bread. Maggie admits that Tom isn’t much of a reader either, although she loves him dearly and hopes they will always live together. She realizes that Tom’s rabbits have died, and is very distressed that she has failed to look after them, as he asked her to do.
Luke is a typical inhabitant of St. Ogg's in that he feels little intellectual curiosity about the outside world. For him, the world beyond his community is not of much interest to his daily life. Maggie admits that the same is true of her brother, Tom. For her, by contrast, the world of far-away places is a source of intellectual stimulation and delight. She loves reading in large part because books allow her to learn about people, things, and experiences that are outside her own limited sphere of existence.
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Luke comforts Maggie and invites her to visit him and his wife in their cottage. While there, Mrs. Moggs gives Maggie some bread and treacle. Maggie is particularly fascinated by a picture they have on their walls of the “prodigal son,” a biblical character who abandons his family and spends all his inheritance before humbly returning home and being reaccepted by his family. Maggie comments that she is glad the father reaccepted his son, even after his misadventures.
Here, Maggie first displays one of her most prominent character traits: her tendency to feel sympathy and compassion for people who have done wrong. Although the prodigal son in the biblical story betrayed his family, Maggie feels instinctively compassionate towards him and is glad that his father forgives him. The story of the prodigal son also foreshadows an event later in the story, when Maggie almost elopes with Stephen Guest but humbly returns to her family in the hopes of finding forgiveness and compassion.
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