The Mill on the Floss

The Mill on the Floss


George Eliot

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The Mill on the Floss: Book 2, Chapter 7 Summary & Analysis

Once Maggie goes to school, she rarely sees Philip. She sometimes sees him on the streets of St. Ogg’s during the holidays, but knows now that it wouldn’t be appropriate for a young lady to kiss a gentleman, so can’t fulfill her promise. Worse, Mr. Tulliver initiates the lawsuit against Mr. Pivart, who Wakem represents. Mr. Tulliver tells Tom to avoid Philip at school. Tom, meanwhile, comes to the end of his school days, having grown into a tall and handsome sixteen-year-old, with a few “vague, fragmentary, ineffectual” scraps of education under his belt.
Unlike Tom and Philip, Maggie’s education at a boarding school has largely consisted of learning what is considered “proper” and “respectable” for a woman. She thus knows now that it would not be appropriate for her, an unmarried woman, to kiss Philip. While Tom and Philip’s education—however “ineffectual”—has consisted of scholarly knowledge, Maggie's education has been primarily designed to train her in her proper social role.
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Maggie, now thirteen, comes to visit Tom at Mr. Stelling’s. She tells Tom that Mr. Tulliver has lost the lawsuit with Mr. Pivart and will lose his mill, money, and property. Mr. Tulliver has also fallen off his horse, and is now very ill and doesn’t recognize anyone but Maggie. Tom is shocked by this development, since he had always believed that his father knew best and was a competent and successful man, even though he seemed to have less money than some of their family members and neighbors. Maggie and Tom take a coach for home. The narrator observes that they are going into “a thorny wilderness,” the “golden gates” of their childhood having closed behind them.
The Tulliver family's bankruptcy marks the end of Tom and Maggie’s childhood in several ways. It puts their schooling to an end, since their family can no longer afford the fees, and because the children are now needed at home. In a broader sense, it also represents an end to the innocence and comfort of childhood. Before, Tom and Maggie had complete confidence in their father and were convinced that he knew best. Their transition into adulthood thus involves painful disillusionment as they realize the extent of their father's flaws and mistakes.
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