The Mill on the Floss

The Mill on the Floss

by

George Eliot

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Mill on the Floss can help.

The Mill on the Floss: Book 7, Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
A few weeks later, Maggie is up late at night and can’t sleep. The narrator relates the terrible heavy rains of the past few days, which have swollen the river and made some people anxious about flooding. Maggie, too, has had a difficult few days. First she was let go by Dr. Kenn, who could no longer keep her on as governess in light of the rumors that he planned to marry her. Then, she received a letter from Stephen. After the botched elopement, Stephen fled to Holland, but now he is back in Mudport and begs her to reconsider and marry him. Feeling desperate and rejected, Maggie thinks of writing a response that simply reads “Come!” However, she suppresses this impulse in herself, remembering the joy she felt at being forgiven by Lucy and Philip.
Maggie has had a miserable time since her return to St. Ogg’s. She has been thrown out of Dorlcote Mill by her own brother, gossiped about, sexually harassed, and most recently, fired. It is thus unsurprising that she would think of turning to marriage with Stephen as a way of regaining her “respectability” and being reaccepted into society once again as a married woman. However, Maggie refuses to hurt Lucy and Philip, and despite all her suffering, she is happy that they have forgiven her. This suggests that she values those deep emotional connections and relationships over mere social convention and the opportunity to be a lady.
Themes
Women’s Roles and Social Pressures Theme Icon
Tolerance and Forgiveness  Theme Icon
Maggie kneels to pray, but as she does so, she feels a pooling of water at her feet. She runs upstairs to wake Bob and tell him to evacuate his family. Thinking of Tom at Dorlcote Mill, she runs to Bob's boat and picks up an oar. Before Bob can stop her, she begins to row to the mill, determined to rescue her brother. In a dreamlike state, she passes through floating detritus and flooded streets, looking for familiar landscapes to orient her.
In the moment of disaster, when the town begins to flood, Maggie’s first thought is of Tom at Dorlcote Mill. This suggests that the bonds of family and memory are remarkably persistent, despite the deep rift between her and her brother. She looks for familiar landmarks as she rows through the streets, underlining again the guiding and shaping power of memory.
Themes
Memory and Childhood Theme Icon
Finally, Maggie sees the top of Dorlcote Mill, which is flooded up to the first story. She shouts for Tom, whose head appears at the window. Tom explains that Mrs. Tulliver is safe at her sister’s house. Maggie pulls Tom into the boat, and he is astonished that she has come to rescue him by herself. Overcome, he simply says “Magsie,” her old childhood nickname. Maggie and Tom begin to row the boat to try to rescue Lucy, but before they make it, they are swept away in the current. Just before they drown, they cling to each other “in an embrace never to be parted.”
In sharp contrast to Maggie's powerlessness when Stephen rowed her in the boat away from St. Ogg’s without her permission, here Maggie takes back her agency and makes a free choice to row the boat and rescue her brother. Tom’s astonishment and gratitude demonstrates that sibling bonds are stronger than grudges. They have a final reconciliation before their deaths, ending their lives on a note of acceptance and forgiveness rather than stubbornness.
Themes
Memory and Childhood Theme Icon
Women’s Roles and Social Pressures Theme Icon
Tolerance and Forgiveness  Theme Icon