The Mill on the Floss
by George Eliot
The Mill on the Floss Theme of Society and Class
Mr. Tulliver probably sums up society best by calling it "puzzling." The society of St. Ogg’s can be very confusing and even contradictory. Though the society here operates on strict rules, it is also prone to some pretty outlandish and harmful assumptions. Society can be also be quite cruel in The Mill on the Floss. Gossip and prejudice and judgmental attitudes seem to dominate. And a society this watchful can be a dangerous place too, where any action can be taken the wrong way. This confusing mess of rules and rumors is also one of the book’s chief antagonists. Society allows and even encourages many characters to behave badly towards others.
Questions About Society and Class
- The narrator explains that Maggie, rather than Stephen, was blamed for the elopement scandal largely because of gender inequalities. Do you think their class status (Maggie’s poverty and Stephen’s wealth) had anything to do with the way blame was placed?
- Can Wakem’s callous, or mean, behavior towards the Tullivers be explained by his class status? Does he use his wealth and power to take advantage of others?
- The narrator is often very critical of society, particularly in regards to the St. Ogg’s rumor mill. Are there any instances where society is presented in a more positive light?
- The Tulliver family was really socially isolated after they went bankrupt. How do you think this social isolation impacted the respective characters of Tom and Maggie?
Chew on This
Maggie would have been better off if she had gone ahead and married Stephen – her reputation would have been preserved and her family would have better accepted the situation.
The extended Dodson family actually represents the greater society of St. Ogg’s on a micro-scale. Like St. Ogg’s society, the Dodson clan is ruled by strict rules and a large amount of gossip and scandal.