The Mill on the Floss
by George Eliot
Take a story's temperature by studying its tone. Is it hopeful? Cynical? Snarky? Playful?
Sympathetic, Insightful, Philosophical, Ironic
The narrator here is above all else sympathetic. Characters are frequently referred to as "poor" whoever, and the narrator is very careful to give us detailed insight into all the characters’ thoughts, feelings, and (often) personal hardships and tragedies. Characters we might be inclined to dismiss as bad, like Wakem, are given a detailed treatment that allows us to feel sympathy for them, or at least to better understand them. The narrator very rarely mocks the characters here, opting instead to detail their suffering and often to commiserate, or sympathize, with them. However, the narrator isn’t overly emotionally involved. Overall the tone is an interesting blend of detached and emotional.
While sympathetic, the tone is also very insightful, intelligent, and often philosophical. The narrator often gives detailed and highly rational explanations for a certain character’s behavior. We also often get passages that consider major philosophical issues, like religion. But while the tone is largely sympathetic and intellectual, it is not without humor. There are many instances where the narrator uses irony, or teases the characters a little. Tom’s and Maggie’s aunts and uncles are frequently on the receiving end of humorous descriptions and eye-rolling commentary. But the teasing often tends to focus more on characters' actions as opposed to the characters themselves.