The Mill on the Floss


George Eliot

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The Mill on the Floss: Foreshadowing 4 key examples

Definition of Foreshadowing
Foreshadowing is a literary device in which authors hint at plot developments that don't actually occur until later in the story. Foreshadowing can be achieved directly or indirectly, by making... read full definition
Foreshadowing is a literary device in which authors hint at plot developments that don't actually occur until later in the story. Foreshadowing can be achieved... read full definition
Foreshadowing is a literary device in which authors hint at plot developments that don't actually occur until later in the... read full definition
Book 1, Chapter 2 
Explanation and Analysis—Mrs. Tulliver’s Warning:

Right at the start of the novel, when Mrs. Tulliver is complaining about Maggie’s rambunctious and unladylike behavior, she foreshadows Maggie’s death, as seen in the following passage:

“Maggie, Maggie,” continued the mother, in a tone of half-coaxing fretfulness, as this small mistake of nature entered the room, “where’s the use o’ my telling you to keep away from the water? You’ll tumble in and be drownded some day, an’ then you’ll be sorry you didn’t do as mother told you.”

There is no mistaking Eliot’s intentions here, as Mrs. Tulliver directly predicts how Maggie will be “dronwded some day” (the word “drowned” is presented here in dialect), a warning that proves to be true in the final chapter of the book.

Here Eliot also foreshadows how Maggie’s tendency to challenge women’s typical social roles will be responsible for her fate—as a child, she ran around like a boy (rather than acting proper and prim like a girl) and, her mother fears, may drown because of it. Meanwhile, as an adult, Maggie rows across the river to save her brother rather than allowing men to save her and take her to safety, another "unladylike" choice that costs her her life.

Book 1, Chapter 3
Explanation and Analysis—The History of the Devil:

Near the beginning of the novel, Mr. Tulliver’s sophisticated friend Mr. Riley finds Maggie reading “The History of the Devil” and judges her for it, as seen in the following passage:

Mr Tulliver had listened to this exposition of Maggie’s with petrifying wonder. “Why, what book is it the wench has got hold on?” he burst out, at last.

“‘The History of the Devil,’ by Daniel Defoe; not quite the right book for a little girl,” said Mr Riley.

This is an allusion to the book The Political History of the Devil by British writer Daniel Defoe, published in 1726. The book is Defoe’s study of the devil that contains strongly anti-Catholic views.

This moment is meant to show Maggie’s intelligence and rebelliousness—she is reading a book that is meant for adults, specifically for men (as children and women are not supposed to trouble themselves with such challenging topics). It also shows the prejudice and small-mindedness of the Tulliver family, as the book perpetuates discriminatory anti-Catholic views.

This moment is also a subtle example of foreshadowing Maggie’s death by drowning, as seen in Maggie’s description of a picture in the book:

“It’s a dreadful picture, isn’t it? But I can’t help looking at it. That old woman in the water’s a witch — they’ve put her in to find out whether she’s a witch or no, and if she swims she’s a witch, and if she’s drowned — and killed, you know — she’s innocent, and not a witch, but only a poor silly old woman. But what good would it do her then, you know, when she was drowned?”

Here Maggie creates a connection between the woman in the picture (punished, perhaps, for being a witch when she was just a woman) and herself (who also ends up drowning after being ostracized from her community despite being an innocent woman).

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Book 1, Chapter 4
Explanation and Analysis—The Prodigal Daughter:

In an example of both foreshadowing and allusion, near the beginning of the novel, when Maggie is visiting Luke (the head miller at the Dorlcote Mill) and his wife, she notices a painting of the prodigal son:

Maggie actually forgot that she had any special cause of sadness this morning, as she stood on a chair to look at a remarkable series of pictures representing the Prodigal Son […]  “I’m very glad his father took him back again — aren’t you, Luke?” she said. “For he was very sorry, you know, and wouldn’t do wrong again.”

The painting Maggie comments on is an allusion to a story in the Bible about a young man who abandons his family and spends all of his inheritance before humbly returning home and asking for forgiveness from his father, which the father readily grants.

Maggie’s statement that she is “glad his father took him back again” is notable in that it sets Maggie up as a character who is very empathetic and in tune with her emotions and also foreshadows the fact that, after running away with Stephen, she will ask for forgiveness from her family. Unfortunately for Maggie, she does not receive this forgiveness from Tom (even as other family members do forgive her) and suffers deeply because of it.

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Book 3, Chapter 6
Explanation and Analysis—Bob Jakin's Kindness:

When the Tulliver family has an estate sale in the wake of Mr. Tulliver’s bankruptcy, Tom’s childhood friend Bob Jakin stops by and offers the family a significant sum of money. Tom and Maggie reject Bob’s money, but, as seen in the following passage, Maggie says that she hopes he will remain “a friend that we can go to”—an example of foreshadowing:

“If ever Tom or my father wants help that you can give, we’ll let you know — won’t we, Tom? That’s what you would like — to have us always depend on you as a friend that we can go to — isn’t it, Bob?”

“Yes, Miss, and thank you,” said Bob, reluctantly taking the money; “that’s what I’d like — anything as you like.”

This interaction foreshadows the way that Maggie and Mrs. Tulliver will go to Bob for support after Mr. Tulliver dies and after Maggie is all but ostracized from the town for running away with Stephen. As he promises in the quote, he proves to be a dependable friend, kindly taking them in and letting them live with him when they have nowhere else to go. Here childhood friendship perseveres despite pressure on Bob to reject Maggie for not acting as a young woman is supposed to in their conservative culture.

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