The Mill on the Floss Book 1, Chapter 4 Summary

George Eliot

Book 1, Chapter 4 Summary

Tom is due to arrive home from his regular school, the "academy," where he learns basic skills in reading and writing; the school is quite different from the more advanced one he will soon be attending. Maggie is disappointed that her mother did not allow her to go with Mr. Tulliver to get Tom. In rebellion against her mother's ruling, Maggie is acting defiantly, refusing to sit still while her mother curls her hair. Even more defiantly, Maggie runs away from her mother and pours water over her head to make sure that every curl her mother had tried to set in her hair is obliterated. Mrs. Tulliver, frustrated by her daughter's disobedience, says she will tell Maggie's aunts about her behavior, and they will not love her any more.  

When Maggie is disturbed, she can run to a special hiding place, if the day is not too cold. It is in the attic space under the old high-pitched roof. Very upset, Maggie goes to her retreat. In this room, she is free to release all her frustration and anger. She even has a special doll upon which she plays out her most extreme emotional reactions. Maggie punishes the doll for every misfortune she experiences. Often the doll represents her Aunt Glegg. Currently three nails have been hammered into the doll's head. Believing that the doll already has as many nails as it can take, Maggie smacks the doll's head against the wall. After she is finished, Maggie notices that the sun has come out. She runs to a window, forgetting the grievance that had caused her ill feelings. She throws the doll to the floor, stops crying, and decides to join her pet dog, as the outside world has become irresistible.

Once she reaches the fields, Maggie begins to dance. Luke, the man who works in the mill, sees Maggie and suggests that she stop turning in circles before she becomes too dizzy. Maggie assures Luke that she is fine. Then she attempts to interest Luke in reading a book. She discovers that the only book Luke has ever read is the Bible. She tells him there are many books with more interesting stories. She mentions a book about Holland and another about creatures in the wild. Luke, however, tells her that he needs no knowledge of things that do not relate to his work and his life. At this, Maggie tells Luke that he reminds her of her brother Tom. Tom does not like to read, Maggie says. She confesses that she loves Tom very much, and when they both grow up, she will keep house for Tom and teach him the things that he needs to learn.

As Maggie is about to leave, Luke tells her that he has discovered that Tom's rabbits are both dead. Maggie was supposed to have taken care of the rabbits while Tom was at school. Upon hearing this news, Maggie is afraid that Tom will never forgive her.