The Mill on the Floss
Memory and the Past Theme
The past or the present? That may sound like a weird question to ask, but it’s one that a ton of characters in The Mill on the Floss attempt to answer. A person’s past and their memories are a huge part of who they are, and the characters here often struggle to integrate their pasts into their present. But no character does this in a uniform way. Some characters want to put the past behind them and live in the present, while others want to live almost fully in the past. Memory and the past are extremely powerful influences, shaping a person’s identity and guiding the choices they make.
Questions About Memory and the Past
- How do Tom’s and Maggie’s ways of dealing with the past differ? Does one have a healthier or more positive attitude towards the past?
- Stephen seems eager to live in the present and not let the past dictate his decisions. Is the present ever fully able to negate, or to cancel out, the past in this novel?
- The narrator often includes thoughts about history and the past in the narrative. How do these more general observations about history relate to the narrative as a whole?
- Does any character seem like they have moved on from their past, or is every character haunted by their past in some way here?
Chew on This
Philip is one of the few characters in the novel who seems to deal with his past in a positive way, allowing it to enrich his present, rather than to completely dictate, or determine, it.
Philip, like many other characters in this novel, has a very problematic relationship with his past; he seems to be obsessed with it, particularly in terms of his long-standing relationship with Maggie, and is unable to move on and live in the present.