I need help writing a 3-page essay on the thesis that George Eliot's novel The Mill on the Floss is not just a story about the romantic relationships of the brother and sister, but also about diverse mentalities and cultures.
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George Eliot's novel The Mill on the Floss is, as most of her works, more than a simple story about relationships. It also is a far reaching critique of social and gender inequality. Often The Mill on the Floss is read as one of the most autobiographical of Eliot's novels, with Maggie Tuilliver representing the hopes and dreams of young Eliot herself.
George Eliot was a pseudonym for Mary Anne Evans, who was actually the daughter of estate manager Robert Evans. She began her writing career by translating important works of German theology into English, and working as a journalist and editor of the prestigious, albeit radical, Westminster Review. She also fell in love and lived with a married man, Henry Lewes, who had separated from a wife who had committed adultery but could not obtain a divorce.
In The Mill on the Floss, Eliot creates a semi-autobiographical account of Maggie Tuilliver, a young woman whose social and intellectual aspirations are thwarted by the limitation of women's roles and her social class. The narrator describes Maggie as follows:
Maggie ... was a creature full of eager, passionate longings for all that was beautiful and glad; thirsty for all knowledge; with an ear straining after dreamy music that died away and would not come near to her ...
In Maggie's world, advanced education is restricted to men like her brother Tom, despite Maggie being interested in learning Greek and Latin and quite clever, and Tom disliking schoolwork. Philip Waken shares many of Maggie's interests, and also is somewhat of an outsider due to his physical disability. The obstacles put in the way of their friendship by family feuding echoes a constant theme in Eliot's work about how social conventions create artificial barriers to human relationships.
Although many elements of the plot have to do with relationship, both of love and friendship, the central issue in Maggie's ostracism is the tyranny of public opinion. In this, Eliot, who had been editor of Westminster Review, a periodical founded by John Stuart Mill, is actually creating in novel form an argument we find in Mill's important essay "On Liberty," which argues, inter alia, that public opinion becomes an almost dictatorial response that limits freedom within democracies.
For your three-page paper, your central issue should be the function of the novel as a commentary on gender roles in its period. You also will want to address as a second cultural theme the problem of how economic and social inequality and the tyranny of public opinion harm interpersonal relationships.
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