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Themes

Family is at the core of The Mill on the Floss. Most of the book’s characters are somehow related, and the sibling relationship between Tom and Maggie is arguably the most important one in the book. Family is something inescapable, with positive and negative results, for the characters here. As frustrating and as painful as family relations often are, they are ultimately binding and unavoidable. Family duty is a powerful guiding principle here as well, to the point where it often completely overshadows individual desires. This book even questions whether people do, or can, exist outside of their families, and whether or not it’s possible to have an identity separate from the family.

Questions About Family

  1. Philip often expresses ideas of individualism and says that he is willing to act against his father’s wishes. Does Philip actually practice what he preaches? Does he ever go against his family’s wishes?
  2. How do you think Tom and Maggie would define family loyalty? Do their definitions about what family loyalty means differ?
  3. Nearly every character in this book is somehow related, by blood or by marriage. What effect does this sort of structure have on the narrative? Does it reinforce any themes or help to create a certain atmosphere or mood?
  4. Dr. Kenn’s name sounds a lot like the word "kin," or family. Do you think that Dr. Kenn and his philosophical and religious views relate to the book’s theme of family and, if so, how?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Maggie uses her commitment to family and family duty as an excuse to get her out of emotional or confusing situations, like her relationship with Philip.

As dysfunctional as the Dodson clan often is, they are actually a strong and loving family overall.

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