The Mill on the Floss
by George Eliot
Music and Sound
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
Music and sound are probably the most frequently repeated symbols in the entire book and, as a result, music and sound represent a lot of different things. Music and sound have the ability to create entire worlds here, and they are often depicted as safe havens from harsh reality. Both Philip and Maggie take comfort and joy in music. Maggie explains her love of music here:
I think I should have no other mortal wants, if I could always have plenty of music. It seems to infuse strength into my limbs and ideas into my brain. Life seems to go on without effort, when I am filled with music. (6.3.10)
But music isn’t always depicted as peaceful in this book. Rather, music and sound are emotionally charged and dynamic. Music is a way to experience heightened emotions and it is also a way to express heightened emotions to others. Philip uses music to express himself in this scene:
It was not quite unintentionally that Philip had wandered into this song which might be an indirect expression to Maggie of what he could not prevail on himself to say to her directly. (6.7.53)
Symbolically, the passion of music and sound are frequently related to the passionate Maggie. Maggie and music have a very close affinity, or a close relationship. The way music is represented here – emotional, passionate, beautiful – often seems to represent Maggie in the abstract. Maggie is even sometimes characterized as a musical instrument. Check out the "Art and Culture Quotes" section for some thoughts on this.
Overall, music and sound represent the better life, for which Maggie spends the entire book searching. This sort of "musical" life is one of deep emotion and energy.