The Mill on the Floss
by George Eliot
If we were handing out prizes for Miss (or Mr.) Congeniality here, we’d definitely give one to Bob Jakin. Bob might just be the nicest, and the coolest, person in this entire book. He certainly doesn’t come across that way at first, though. When we first meet Bob we see him as a poor, kind of ridiculous boy whom Maggie dislikes. But as an adult, Bob serves two key functions in the narrative: he’s the comic relief and he embodies the novel’s morals.
This might seem like a weird combo. Comedic characters aren’t usually known for their moral fiber, and vice versa. But Bob pulls it off with style. First up, we have the comic relief, which occurs whenever Bob opens his mouth. He’s always rambling, sometimes hilariously, sometimes sweetly. He’s the mastermind behind one of the funniest sequences in the book, where he skillfully manipulates Aunt Glegg into not only buying some of his merchandise but also into investing in Tom’s money-earning scheme, which Bob thought up in the first place. He may not always sound like it, but Bob is a really intelligent guy.
So, we’ve got comic relief covered. But Bob is also one of the best examples of morality in action. Bob should really have his picture in the dictionary next to "compassionate." He offers up what little money he has to help the Tullivers when he hears they are bankrupt. And he later brings Maggie a bundle of books because he remembers that she loves to read. Bob is a truly generous and compassionate individual, so much so that he sometimes seems to belong to another world entirely:
The days of chivalry are not gone [...] they live still in that far-off worship paid by many a youth and man to the woman of whom he never dreams that he shall touch so much as her little finger [...]. Bob, with his pack on his back, had as respectful an adoration for [Maggie] as if he had been a knight in armour." (4.3.32)
Ultimately, the humorous, compassionate, and generous Bob possesses all the qualities that Maggie tries to uphold and longs to find in others, which just goes to show that you should never judge a book by its cover, or a "packman" by his pack (and his speech and his rambling nature) in this case.