The Mill on the Floss

by George Eliot

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What is the theme and basic idea of the novel "The Mill on the Floss" by George Eliot?

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“The Mill on The Floss,” is the story of Maggie Tulliver, (“who is impetuous, warm, and highly intelligent, but she is also forgetful and impulsive”), and her brother, Tom, (“who is bossy and convinced that he always knows what's good for everyone else, traits he displays in childhood and continues throughout the book”), living in a mill on the Floss River. Their father is a proud man who loves his children but angers easily in other areas, especially those concerning his business. He is easily gets his back up in a huff, and then does not easily forgive the person who angered him.

Maggie wants to be loved and accepted by her brother. Unfortunately, Tom takes her for granted. If he has something go wrong, he will take it out on her. Then he will miss her and pet her again; her world becomes fine again. When Mr. Tulliver's business fails, all his rage is directed at the man he feels is responsible. He then drags Tom and Maggie into his vendetta. Tom sides with his father. Maggie is caught in the storm of family issues.  This book is full of description and far too long to summarize in full here.  Look at the links provided below. The theme is simply a novel about the middle class family in England and the concept of the individual against society. Alan Bellringer has commented, "The two main themes of the novel, growing up and falling in love, lend themselves to amusement, but it is stunted growth and frustrated love that are emphasized."

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What is the concept of The Mill on the Floss?

If we are looking for a central concept or theme to this impressive work, I think it has to be an examination of the role of its central character, Maggie Tulliver, and the way that she is always shown to be in opposition to the wider society of which she is a part. The society in which she lives is constantly shown to be conservative, restrictive and narrow-minded, and Maggie's stubborness and the force of her character means that she is always at odds with it. Note how even as a child this theme is indicated through the way in which Maggie definitely does not conform to the image of a traditional girl. She is unkempt, messy and far too intelligent, so much so that her mother despairs of her and her father doubts that she will ever marry because of her intelligence. She is deemed to be "unnatural" by her parents and it is wondered how she will ever find a place for her in society.

As she grows up she has definite ideas about her own wants and desires and achieving freedom. This stands in stark contrast to her brother, Tom, who represents the opposite, as he seeks to live his life in accordance with the expectations of his family and society. The conflict that emerges between them leads Maggie into a crushing internal conflict as she has to face the conflicting urges of either yielding to societal forces and doing what others think she should do with her life, leading a profoundly frustrated life as a result, or to ignore her family and society and do what she pleases, becoming isolated and shunned. This internal conflict becomes so intense that the only possible ending is her own death, which incidentally allows her to be reunited with her much-loved brother.

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