The Mill on the Floss

The Mill on the Floss


George Eliot

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The Mill on the Floss: Book 2, Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

As they settle in to their lessons together, Tom and Philip maintain an uneasy friendship. Tom likes Philip’s stories and his help with Latin, but Philip sometimes has bad moods—related to a “sense of his deformity”—that make him irritable. Besides, Tom can’t forget that Philip is the son of his father’s enemy, Wakem. Tom, meanwhile, makes little progress at his education. He takes drawing lessons from a local draughtsman, Mr. Goodrich, but struggles with drawing. Mr. Stelling responds to Tom’s lack of natural ability at Latin by pushing him all the harder, rather than teaching him something for which he is more suited.
Despite their personality differences and the deep-seated hatred between their families, Philip and Tom manage to become friends—of a sort. Tom is able to appreciate Philip’s talents and skills that he doesn’t share, like his facility for storytelling and his knowledge of books. Tom’s ability to feel compassion and tolerance for someone different from him suggests that the Wakems and the Tullivers might be able to find some common ground, especially thanks to the younger generation.
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Tom begins taking drilling lessons with Mr. Poulter, an old soldier who fought with the Duke of Wellington against Napoleon. Tom asks Philip to come outside to see him sword-fight, but Philip angrily refuses, feeling humiliated by the prospect. Tom responds by shouting at him and calling him an “imp” and his father a “rogue,” leaving Philip in tears. Meanwhile, Tom gives Mr. Poulter five shillings in exchange for his sword, so that Tom can play at being a soldier when Maggie arrives for her visit.
Tom clearly remains insecure about his own lack of scholarly success compared with Philip's seeming ease at his studies, which is why he likes to remind Philip of his practical knowledge and skills, like sword fighting. Philip, for his part, is humiliated by any reminders of his inability to participate in those activities. Both Tom and Philip thus demonstrate more regard for the form of knowledge for which they are individually better-suited.
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