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Themes

Suffering, particularly of the emotional variety, seems to be the one universal constant in The Mill on the Floss. Suffering isn’t just expected by everyone, it’s even welcome by some of them. Maggie and her masochistic tendencies, or her tendency to seek out and even embrace her own suffering, comes to mind. Since everyone in this book suffers, what distinguishes people is how they deal with suffering, both their own and the suffering of others.

Questions About Suffering

  1. Circumstances definitely work against a lot of the characters in this book and cause suffering. But do any characters seem to cause their own suffering? Who makes themselves suffer, and why?
  2. Maggie often says that suffering is something that must be accepted and endured. Do you agree with Maggie’s assessment of suffering? Is her attitude towards suffering a good one to have or a bad one?
  3. The Tulliver family is definitely depressed after they go bankrupt. But we have evidence that money doesn’t always buy happiness – Bob Jakin seems pretty happy, after all. Do you think the Tullivers really overreacted to their bankruptcy, or are their reactions completely understandable and warranted?

Chew on This

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

Maggie spends so much time and energy trying to avoid pain by denying herself things that she actually ends up causing herself more pain by creating a lot of inner conflict.

Maggie actually sabotages her own happiness because she likes, or at least is used to, her own suffering.

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