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Maggie Tulliver: Divided Needs Represented in Diverse Relations
It is said that George Eliot’s style of writing deals with much realism. Eliot, herself meant by a “realist” to be “an artist who values the truth of observation above the imaginative fancies of writers of “romance” or fashionable melodramatic fiction.” (Ashton 19) This technique is artfully utilized in her writings in a way which human character and relationships are dissected and analyzed. In the novel The Mill on the Floss, Eliot uses the relationships of the protagonist of the story, Miss Maggie Tulliver, as a medium in which to convey various aspects of human social associations. It seems that as a result of Maggie’s nature and of circumstances presented around her, that she is never able to have a connection with one person that satisfies her multifaceted needs and desires. Maggie is able, to some extent, to explore the various and occasionally conflicting aspects of her person with her relationships between other characters presented in the novel. “From an early age, Maggie needs approval from men...Maggie is not shown in any deep relationship with a female friend.” (Ashton 83) A reader can explore into Maggie Tulliver’s person and her short development as a woman in four primary male associations: her father–Mr. Tulliver, her brother–Tom Tulliver, her friend and mentor–Philip Wakem and her dangerous passion with Steven Guest.
Maggie unconditionally loves her father although he has been the unconscious root of many of her misfortunes. “Tom’s and Maggie’s young lives are blighted by the gloom, poverty, disgrace and death of their father...Maggie is obliged by her father’s failure to leave school...It is the misfortune of a clever girl denied any activity other than domestic.” (Ashton 50) In the time period of the setting of the novel, women were regarded as male property, to take care of household matters and without skill, originality and intelligence of a man. Mr. Tulliver cared deeply for his daughter’s future but inadvertently oppressed Maggie through his views of women. This idea is represented in his dialog with Mr. Riley of Maggie’s “unnatural” intelligence: “It’s a pity but what she’d been then lad–she’d ha’been a match for the lawyers, she would. It’s the wonderful’st thing.” (Eliot 68) Mr. Tulliver by nature was stubborn, opinionated and led his family to disgrace as a result. However, there is a close bond between him and Maggie for which he had always protected her and favored her over Tom, as much as would permit in that age. Maggie always felt a responsibility to please her father and to never cause him any grievances. She was loyal to him at times that he seemed to not return her affection “How she wished that [her father] would stoke her head, or give her some sign that he was soothed by the sense that he had a daughter who loved him!” (Eliot 371) When her father was in the lowest point of self-ruin and was under the scrutiny of the family, Maggie took upon the position of the protector and loyally defended her protector. “Her father had always defended and excused her, and her loving remembrance of his tenderness was a force within her that would enable her to do or bear anything for his sake.” (Eliot 284)
Maggie’s brother, Tom, is the person of whom she was the most fond of. She turned the cheek on some of his unkind actions toward her in the realization of a strong, unbreakable bond. This excerpt from “Brother and Sister” (Ashton 90) portrays the type of relationship Maggie and Tom Tulliver have.
He was the elder and a little man
Of forty inches, bound to show no dread,
And I the girl that puppy-like now ran,
Now lagged behind my brother’s larger tread.
“Every episode in the early chapters show Maggie’s high hopes of pleasure being dashed by disagreements with Tom.” (Ashton 75) “Tom indeed was of opinion that Maggie was a silly little thing: all girls were silly...still he was very fond of his sister and always meant to take care of her.” (Eliot 92) Even with this mutual love, Tom is extremely harsh of Maggie, whose only concern is to please him and maintain closeness with him throughout their lives. In many instances, Tom would feel his authority being threatened by Maggie and bear insensitive punishments upon her. He shows his rage and after his own personal interpretation and feeling, giving Maggie no chance to defend herself. The worst punishment he could evoke upon Maggie is to estrange himself from her and banish him from [their] home. This action in their troubled relationship causes Tom to be callous and harsh and raises the possibility for Maggie to be isolated in the world. “You will find no home with me...You have been a curse to your best friends...I wash my hands of you forever. You don’t belong to me!” (Eliot 612)
Till the dire years whose awful name is change
Had grasped our soul still yearning in divorce,
And pitiless shaped them in two forms that range
Two elements which sever their life’s course.
This excerpt taken from the same poem is significant of the divided views and paths of these...
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Ashton, Rosemary. The Mill on the Floss: A Natural History. Twayne’s
Masterwork Studies. Boston, G.K. Hall & Co. 1990
Byatt, A.S. “The Placing of Steven Guest”. Appendix, The Mill on the Floss,
Middlesex, Blays Ltd, St Printing; Penguin Classics. 1979
Carlisle, Janice. “The Mirror In the Mill on the Floss; Toward Reading of Autobiography
Discourse”. Studies in the Literary Imagination. Vol 23:Issue 2. [EBSCO]
Masterfile Premier 1990
Edinborough and London. “Brother and Sister” The Legend of Jubal and Other Poems.
London, Blackwood 1874
Eliot, George. The Mill on the Floss. Middlesex, Penguin English Library, 1979.
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