The Mill on the Floss

The Mill on the Floss


George Eliot

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The Mill on the Floss: Book 4, Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

One day, the Tullivers receive a visit from Bob Jakin, Tom’s childhood friend. Bob brings a package of books for Maggie, concerned that the family have had to sell most of their books. Maggie is touched by Tom’s gesture, but she is increasingly depressed at her lack of intellectual stimulation and the melancholy air of her household. She is reminded that she has only her school books left, when she longs for “Scott’s novels” and “Byron’s poems.”
Maggie’s desire to read and learn is frustrated by the lack of books in her household—and notably, even her school books don't seem to provide much intellectual stimulation. She mentions wanting to read the novels of Walter Scott and the poems of Lord Byron, but her education at boarding school does not seem to have provided her with that opportunity. It seems that Maggie was intellectually deprived even when she was supposedly receiving an education.
Knowledge and Ignorance Theme Icon
As she looks through Bob’s package, Maggie finds a book by Thomas a Kempis, a fifteenth-century Christian writer. Maggie is very moved by Kempis’s Imitation of Christ, which recommends that people model their own lives after Christ in renouncing worldly desires. Maggie decides that she should place her trust in God and look forward to the next world, rather than trying to find fulfillment in this one.
Maggie is drawn to Christian writings on submission and self-denial at the same time as she is struggling with the narrowing of her life and opportunities. She comes to the conclusion that it is better to suppress her intellectual and artistic longings rather than perpetually yearning after something she can’t have.
Knowledge and Ignorance Theme Icon
Inspired by these Christian writings, Maggie adopts an attitude of submission and self-denial. She reads only theological books and spends her time caring for her family, doing household chores, and taking in sewing to earn extra money for the family. Mrs. Tulliver is amazed that her daughter is “growing up so good,” but Mr. Tulliver continues to worry for Maggie’s marriage prospects.
Mrs. Tulliver is pleased that Maggie is finally being “good”—which is to say, Maggie has suppressed her intellectual and creative life in favor of the world of household chores. This point of view foregrounds the limiting nature of women’s roles and the sort of behavior that Mrs. Tulliver would consider “good.”
Women’s Roles and Social Pressures Theme Icon