In “The Mill On the Floss”, George Eliot vividly depicts Maggie's intelligent, enthusiastic, courageous and innocent personality, as well as her independent spirit and perseverance in upholding morality. This novel transcends the accusation of women's unequal status; it reveals the living conditions of women in the Victorian Age, and also analyses the inner world of Women, their confusion and anxiety. In this novel, we can find Eliot’s feminism ideology in the protagonist——Maggie
“The Mill On the Floss” is considered as a semi-autobiographical novel written by George Eliot. Like the character Maggie in the novel, Eliot is brought up smart and enthusiastic who loves her family, Eliot lives in a farm when she is young, and Eliot’s love affair is not approved by her brother. We can see Eliot’s shadow in Maggie. At the same time, this novel reveals that Maggie, who is regarded as a rebel, has formed selfconsciousness when gradually growing up. Under the appearance of rebellion is her awakening self-consciousness.
Maggie lives in Victorian male-dominant society, so she with rebellious consciousness, can only sometimes choose to escape to fight against the control and oppression of patriarchal dominance and pursue spiritual freedom. Maggie escapes for the first time when her aunts make fun of her being gypsy-like, and she protests byleaving home and trying to join the gypsy. She leaves because she finds it hard to build her self-identity through the approval of others in life.
Maggie is suppressed for her quickness. “Mediocrity is the virtue of women” Her brother Tom hates to see her knowing everything, and her father thinks ignorance is an advantage for a girl to some extent. When Mr. Tulliver explains to Mr. Riley why he has chosen Mrs. Tulliver to be his wife: “As I picked the mother because she wasn’t over cute—being a good-looking woman too, and come of a rare family for managing; but I picked her from her sisters on purpose, cause she was a bit weak, like.” (BOOK ONE, 16) It can be deduced from this talk that the same social class, good-looking, and obedience of a wife is widely agreed at that time. Apparently, Maggie is far from meeting this common expectation of women. It is a time when people have strong bias against women, and women live under domination of Patriarchy. When Mr. Stelling gives his remark on women’s intelligence at Tom’s request, he says: “They can pick up a little of everything, I dare say...... They’ve great deal of superficial cleverness, but they couldn’t go far into anything. They ‘re quick and shallow.” (BOOK TWO, 170) These words deny women’s equal intelligence with men; the words baffle and hurt Maggie greatly, shake her worldview, and make her question herself that if it would have been better to be slow like Tom. And soon after the Tulliver family is bankrupted, Maggie instead of Tom is banished from education just because she is a girl and people would not prefer a woman to be more intelligent than a man.
The first time Maggie learns to compromise is after the Tulliver bankrupts. Maggie finds it hard to make her family happy while pursuing her desire, and she finally makes peace with her inner-self after reading the lines in a book: “If thou sleekest this or that, and wouldst be here or there to enjoy thy own will and pleasure, thou shalt never be quiet nor free from care.” (BOOK FOUR, 327) and these lines shock Maggie greatly: “It flashed through her like the suddenly apprehended solution of a problem, that all the miseries of her young life had come from fixing her heart on her own pleasure as if that were the central necessity of the universe” (BOOK FOUR, 328) Maggie is led by this religious book to believe that pursuing her own desire is selfish and she is obligated to give up her own pleasure sometimes and make other happy. Maggie doubts it is her fault that leads to the unhappiness in life and it is time when she decides to assert her own will and protects people she loves. She forms her values gradually and these words in this book have a profound impact on Maggie when she makes choices in her later life.
Phlip is the first temptation for Maggie, the son of her family’s enemy’s lawyer. Maggie’s intimacy with Philip is not allowed nor agreed by Tom and other people. But Philip seems quite philosophical about their relationship: “But I can’t give up wishing, it seems to me we can never give up longing and wishing while we are thoroughly alive. There are certain things we feel to be beautiful and good, and we must hunger after them. How can we ever be satisfied without them until our feelings are deadened?” (BOOK FIVE, 342) When he comes up with books, music and sweet memory of their childhood, he encourages Maggie to be brave to pursuit things and people she loves, to follow her heart, and to rebel. But Maggie breaks up with Philip because she does not want to hurt Tom’s feeling. “I desire no future that will break the ties of the past. But the tie to my brother is one of the strongest. I can do nothing willingly that will divide me always from him.” (BOOK SIX, 505) Maggie regards sibling love as the only reason that keeps her and Philip apart forever. This change in Maggie is so great that people around can ignore. “Her mother felt the change in her with a sort of puzzled wonder that Maggie should be ‘growing up so good’; it was amazing that this once ‘contrary’ child was become so submissive, so backward to assert her own will.” (BOOK FOUR, 332)
The second temptation is Stephen, lover of Maggie’s cousin Lucy. Maggie is deeply in love with Stephen and Stephen loves her the same. But if Maggie choose to be with Stephen, they would break Lucy’s heart and Maggie would be accused of stepping in. So she tells Stephen to “remember what we both felt: that we both owed ourselves to others and must conquer every inclination which could make us false to that debt” (BOOK SIX, 541) When Maggie is aware of her conditions, she does not choose to stand in opposition to tradition and society. She holds on to her moral integrity, and she lives up to fulfill her moral duty. Maggie eventually chooses to break up with Stephen.
At the end of “The Mill On the Floss”, a heavy flood hit the village. Maggie could have the chance to escape and survival. On thinking of the face of her mother and Tom, Maggie decides to come back and save Tom. However, Maggie and Tom eventually die together in the floods.
Few people can have many unique or dramatic experiences in life; George Eliot focus her novel on the ordinary life. This story is not something about Ahab to fight against Moby-Dick, nor Robinson to venture in a desert island, nor superman to save the world. This is how a woman should be——herself. Eliot does not think that feminism necessarily meant the opposite of men. Women are bond with society, and social connections bring social obligation both in law and morality. Falling in love with Stephen is being herself; keeping rational in face of love and breaking up with Stephen is also being herself. Maggie spends her whole life pursuing the true freedom——overcoming human weakness in her and improving herself in spiritual sense. The year of publication 1860 is considered to be the peak of the British Industrial Revolution and the British Empire, while the status of British women has not changed; they are still in a subordinate and dependent position. The goal of women's survival is to marry into a rich family. Even if they cannot be born in a rich family, they should strive to acquire wealth and status through marriage. The only choice of women's career is to be a good wife and mother. Other Victorian novels written by female writers like “Jane Eyre”, “Pride and Prejudice”, “Sense and Sensibility” are all about how to choose a husband, about how a good marriage is like. However, “The Mill On the Floss” shows readers how to be a rational person, making rational decisions with a rational mind. When there is a conflict between your longings and social tradition, you don’t have to elope for love to prove that you pursue freedom. Freedom for women is choice. Women should be free to choose what they want to do based on their own sense.
From the protagonist of this novel Maggie, we learn Eliot’s feminism view. The process of Maggie’s growing up is the process of her awakening self-consciousness. The organic unity of individual value and social value is a prerequisite for a woman to shape her identity.