Maggie Tulliver: Divided Needs Represented In Dive Essay

This essay has a total of 1839 words and 8 pages.

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 two siblings. The only thing Maggie desired was to have no "cloud between herself
and Tom." (Eliot 577) Despite all of the hardships that Tom had inflicted in Maggie, the
possibility of his danger during the flood sparked the natural protective nature in Maggie
as she laboriously fought the river to Tom's house in a small boat. As seen before in
times of great dispair, they put aside their differences and forgave each other without
saying a word. In their unfortunate ending, their mutual love was shown as "an embrace
never to be parted" (Eliot 655) "Tom and Maggie must be reconciled in Death, where they
could not be in life." (Ashton 92)


One of the major arguments between Tom and Maggie resulted in her friendship with Philip
Wakem. Tom furiously hated Philip as a result of his father, Mr. Wakem, which Tom regarded
as an accomplice to his father's and his family's downfall. Maggie was given strict orders
to stay clear of all Wakem accompaniments. However, good-natured Maggie saw goodness in
Philip that he was not associated with his father's actions. They developed a close
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