An analysis of the protagonist of George Eliot's novel "The Mill on the Floss"

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2006

25 Pages, Grade: 1




II.Main Part
II.1. Maggie Tulliver as a child
II.1.1. “The naughty girl”
II.1.2. Maggie’s appearance
II.1.3. “The obstinate child”
II.1.4. Relationship with Tom
II.1.5. Maggie’s jealousy
II.1.6. Intelligence and education
II.1.7. The attic as a place of refuge
II.1.8. Maggie an demonic imagery
II.2. Maggie Tulliver’s adulthood
II.2.1. Maggie’s development from child to woman
II.2.2. “Disgrace”: Maggie’s fall
II.2.2.1. Relationship with Stephen Guest
II.2.2.2. The boat trip: Maggie’s social fall
II.3. Maggie’s fate – could her fate have been avoided?
II.3.1. The marriage with Stephen Guest as a possible option?
II.3.2. The option of “running away”
II.3.3. Why has Maggie not seen Stephen as a “taboo”
II.3.4. The marriage with Philip as a possible option?

III Conclusion


„The more one sees of human fate and the more one examines its secret springs of action, the more one is impressed by the strength of unconscious motives and by the limitations of free choice"

Carl Gustav Jung (Swiss psychiatrist, psychologist and founder of the Analytic Psychology, 1875-1961)

I. Introduction

Mary Ann Evans born in Warwickshire in 1819 published all her work under the pen name ‘George Eliot’ because of the prevailing attitudes to women during her lifetime. Her third novel “The Mill on the Floss” was written in the years of 1859 and 1860.1 Although the plot is set in 1829, the work reflects the attitudes of the Victorian era in which the author lived. When the novel appeared, at the beginning of April, it gained instant popularity and sustained or increased George Eliot’s reputation with the most thoughtful readers.

In respect to the protagonist Maggie Tulliver, it is a highly interesting book: George Eliot has taken herself for a heroine so that the first two volumes come close to a spiritual autobiography. The story of a close relationship between brother and sister from childhood through adolescence mirrors the similar childhood relationship between Eliot and her own brother. The scenery also represents parts of the environment of her own childhood.

Maggie Tulliver – nine years old when the novel begins and 19 when she dies in the last chapter of the novel – is a very complex and interesting character, who offers much potential for detailed analysis. She is not the ordinary “Victorian girl” and does not represent the image of the “angel in the house” but differs in many ways. What are the main conflicts Maggie has to deal with in childhood and what impact do they have on her reactions and choices in later life? Could Maggie’s fate have been avoided or was a “life in disgrace” the only option she had?

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

1 Most of Eliot’s novels were published serially – that is, as separate volumes appearing over the course of several months: The first volume before October 1859, the second volume on 16th January 1860 and the third volume on 21st March 1860.

In order to find an answer to those questions I will analyse Maggie’s character and her development from child to young woman. For this, her relationship with other main characters will play as much a central part as predominant circumstances and conventional conditions. In the last part I will discuss her fate and look into possible options before finally making clear why she acted the way she did.

II. Main Part

II.1.Maggie Tulliver as a child: character, influences and conflicts

Illustrating the conflicts, struggles and problems Maggie had in childhood will be crucial to understanding her actions and choices in later life. Likewise it will be essential to point out Maggie’s main character traits as well as central relationships, which maintain a great impact on her own choices. This will not only help to show Maggie Tulliver’s development but also to analyse her fate. In brief, Maggie is a clever and impetuous girl, very imaginative and passionate and extremely in need of love. We will have a closer look into her character in the following section.

II.1.1. “The naughty girl”

Maggie Tulliver is thought of as a very naughty child as she does not behave as commonly expected. Her mother and aunts disapprove of her rash, impetuous and wild behaviour. Mrs Tulliver is very discontented, calls Maggie a “ wild thing ” [Eliot, G. (2003): 15]2 and is unhappy that her daughter does not fulfil the role of a nice little girl.3

Mrs Tulliver’s discontent becomes obvious in Book One, Chapter Four:

“Maggie, Maggie […] what is to become of you, if you’re so naughty? […] O dear, o dear, look at your clean pinafore, wet from top to bottom. Folks ’ull

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

2 Quotations generally refer to the following edition: Eliot, George: The Mill on the Floss. London: Penguin Classics 2003.

3 In contrary, Maggie refuses to act on common conducts: “I don’t want to do my patchwork. […] It’s foolish work.” [Eliot, G. (2003): 15].

think it’s a judgement on me as I’ve got such a child – they’ll think I’ve done summat wicked.” [Eliot, G. (2003): 31].

As the quotation shows Mrs Tulliver is very anxious about what others might think and that it is she who will be blamed for having a child as unusual as Maggie. Thus, she rather wishes for a daughter like Lucy, Maggie’s cousin, who meets all expectations – she is said to be nice, little and neat: “It seems hard as my sister Deane should have that pretty child” [Eliot, G. (2003): 16].

II.1.2. Maggie’s appearance

In addition to her commonly disapproved behaviour Maggie’s second burden is her looks. Maggie takes more after the Tullivers, her father’s family, than the Dodsons, the family on her mother’s side, who differ greatly in looks. The Dodsons have a fair look, fair skin, fair hair, light eyes and so on – and therefore look exactly the way that is universally seen as beautiful at that time – whereas Maggie has unnaturally dark skin, hair and eyes and looks rather gypsy-like. In brief, Maggie does not fit into society according to the Dodsons’ opinion.

Mrs Tulliver complains about Maggie’s “brown skin as makes her look like a mulatter” [Eliot, G. (2003): 15] and about her troublesome hair. She “[desires] her daughter to have a curled crop, ‘like other folks’s children’” [Eliot, G. (2003): 15] so that even Mr Tulliver suggests cutting it off.

This finally leads to Maggie’s defiant reaction – a key scene in Book One, in which Maggie cuts off her hair. Here, Maggie is completely carried away by the excitement of the transgression and persuades her brother Tom to help her as she gets frightened by her own daring. She appears in triumphant satisfaction when cutting her hair short. Although Tom is fully aware of the consequences for Maggie, he sees the situation as “rather good fun” and jumps around slapping his knees and laughing because Maggie looks so “queer” and because she “will catch it” [Eliot, G. (2003): 68-81]. Maggie, in contrast, entirely lost in emotions, does not worry about any punishment to come


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An analysis of the protagonist of George Eliot's novel "The Mill on the Floss"
University of Göttingen
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George Eliot, novel, 19th century women's writing, Maggie Tulliver, Stephen Guest, social fall, Victorian Age, angle in the house
Quote paper
Nadine Stahlberg (Author), 2006, An analysis of the protagonist of George Eliot's novel "The Mill on the Floss", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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