The Mill on the Floss


George Eliot

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The Mill on the Floss: Dialect 2 key examples

Book 1, Chapter 2 
Explanation and Analysis—Tom's Education:

In an example of situational irony, Mr. Tulliver spends hundreds of pounds on Tom’s education—believing that it will help him to become financially successful—only to find that it has not prepared Tom for the workforce at all. Mr. Tulliver communicates his intentions early in the novel:

“What I want, you know,” said Mr Tulliver — “what I want is to give Tom a good eddication; an eddication as’ll be a bread to him. That was what I was thinking of when I gave notice for him to leave the ’cademy at Ladyday. I mean to put him to a downright good school at Midsummer. The two years at the ’cademy ’ud ha’ done well enough, if I’d meant to make a miller and farmer of him, for he’s had a fine sight more schoolin’ nor I ever got: all the learnin’ my father ever paid for was a bit o’ birch at one end and the alphabet at th’ other.”

The quote shows (in Midlands dialect) Mr. Tulliver’s logic—he wants to help Tom become “more than a miller and farmer” by sending him to school. (It is notable that Tom does become a successful businessman, but not because of what he learned during his studies.) This is an example of Mr. Tulliver’s provincial ignorance—he sends his son to the type of "gentlemanly" schooling that is focused on Latin, philosophy, and the arts, not understanding how it is different from a trade school or practical education.

A second layer of irony in regards to Tom’s education is that Maggie would have excelled at school the way that Tom couldn’t, as this type of education would have actually matched her interests and ambitions. Yet, because she is a woman, she is not allowed to access this kind of higher learning.

Explanation and Analysis—Long-tailed Sheep:

Near the beginning of the novel, Mr. Tulliver bemoans the fact that Maggie is “too ’cute” (his way of saying “too acute" or "too smart” in his dialect) and uses a metaphor comparing her to a sheep, as seen in the following passage:

“The little un takes after my side, now: she’s twice as ’cute as Tom. Too ’cute for a woman, I’m afraid,” continued Mr Tulliver, turning his head dubiously first on one side and then on the other. “It’s no mischief much while she’s a little un, but an over-’cute woman’s no better nor a long-tailed sheep — she’ll fetch none the bigger price for that.”

In equating Maggie with “a long-tailed sheep” who will “fetch none the bigger price for that,” Mr. Tulliver communicates his belief that women’s value comes from their looks and other feminine traits rather than their intelligence. Mr. Tulliver’s views are not unique—most men in this time period believed that women should be passive and restrained rather than creative and intelligent. That Mr. Tulliver compares Maggie to an animal he has put up for sale also shows how he views her as an object that belongs to him and whose marriage, he hopes, will bring the family money.

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