The Mill on the Floss

The Mill on the Floss


George Eliot

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The Mill on the Floss: Book 6, Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis

Lucy tells Philip about her scheme to get Guest & Co to buy Dorlcote Mill for Tom, thus hopefully soothing some of the enmity between the Tullivers and Wakems. Hoping that this will allow him to marry Maggie, Philip seizes the opportunity to talk to his father. He asks Mr. Wakem to come into his study on the pretense of showing him some recent sketches. Although Mr. Wakem can now only climb stairs with difficulty, he indulges his son.
Philip’s hope that Mr. Wakem might be able to forgive the Tullivers and allow Philip to marry Maggie is not entirely misplaced, given that Mr. Wakem shows a different side with his son. He clearly loves and cares for him deeply, as demonstrated by his willingness to climb the stairs to see his son’s drawings.
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Philip shows Mr. Wakem two drawings he has made of Maggie as a girl and as a young woman. He confesses that he has loved Maggie since she was a child. At first, Mr. Wakem responds with fury, calling Philip ungrateful and threatening to disinherit him. He asks how Philip could possibly consider marriage with the daughter of a man who attacked him. Philip tells him that he thinks revenge is a base motive, and that in any case, Maggie is not responsible for Mr. Tulliver or Tom’s behavior. Mr. Wakem retorts that “we don't ask what a woman does—we ask whom she belongs to.” He ends the conversation angrily, and father and son don’t speak for several hours.
Mr. Wakem demonstrates that he is still holding on to old revenge motives and is unable to forgive the Tullivers. More profoundly, however, his response is also notable for the way his enmity extends to Maggie as well. Philip points out that Maggie is not responsible for the behavior of her father and brother. But Mr. Wakem does not seem to view Maggie as an independent person with her own views. Rather, he sees women as “belonging to” their families, suggesting that gender roles in this period denied women independent agency.
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Related Quotes
When Mr. Wakem returns to the attic, however, he is in a much calmer mood. He reflects that he has seen Maggie in church and thinks she is very beautiful. He muses that she must be fond of Philip, if she agreed to meet him in the woods. Philip reminds Mr. Wakem how much he loved his own wife—who is now dead—and that he hopes to find a similar happiness with Maggie. At this, Mr. Wakem is touched and agrees to accept Maggie as a daughter-in-law, and even to sell the mill. However, he draws the line at forgiving Tom.
Mr. Wakem arguably shows more tolerance and flexibility than Mr. Tulliver in that he is ultimately able to put aside his own grudges in order to facilitate Philip’s happiness. Mr. Tulliver thought that Mr. Wakem was the devil, but Wakem's response here suggests that he is a more complicated figure who loves his wife and son and is willing to sacrifice a great deal for Philip.
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