The Mill on the Floss
by George Eliot
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
Lucy, Maggie, and Tom are all compared to animals, generally dogs, throughout this text. Animals seem somehow related to childhood and to innocence more generally. Maggie is compared to multiple animals – dogs and ponies – when she is a child. For example:
Maggie was incessantly tossing her head to keep the dark heavy locks out of her gleaming black eyes - an action which gave her very much the air of a small Shetland pony. (1.2.24)
Maggie’s animal comparisons are particularly telling in terms of her rather bold personality. Much later in the novel, Lucy herself is compared to an animal:
Lucy sat down near the toilette table, watching [Maggie] with affectionate eyes, and head a little aside, like a pretty spaniel. (6.3.8)
In this instance, the animal comparison seems to reinforce Lucy’s sweet and almost child-like nature. Animals here are used to highlight child-like aspects of the characters’ personality, most of which are lost on the road to adulthood. It is notable that the bulk of the book’s animal comparisons occur early on, when Tom, Maggie, and Lucy are children. As they grow older, Tom and Maggie seem to lose their connection to simpler and more innocent emotions, which are represented by animals.