Study Guide

Mr. Wakem in The Mill on the Floss

By George Eliot

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Mr. Wakem

As far as arch-nemeses go, Mr. Wakem is kind of disappointing. He’s not super evil in the mustache-twirling, cape-wearing sense. He doesn’t sit around cackling to himself. He never even really reaches Mr. Burns (from The Simpsons) levels of scheming.

However, at the beginning of the book Mr. Wakem is set up as Satan. He is the Evil Lawyer extraordinaire according to Mr. Tulliver. He’d be a great member of Dr. Horrible’s Evil League of Evil. Though, his introduction probably should clue us in to this misrepresentation; Mr. Tulliver isn’t exactly the most reliable individual.

But while he isn’t uber-evil, Mr. Wakem isn’t the nicest of guys. In fact, he is scarier than a super-villain, sometimes at least. Mr. Wakem is insidious, meaning that he’s sort of treacherous. He’s a bad guy set on stealth mode.

Basically, Mr. Wakem represents the negative side of modern society. He is described as a "machine" at one point, impersonally performing his duties and lacking in sympathy. Mr. Wakem sees other people in terms of how they can be dealt with, and oftentimes manipulated. He has a very lofty worldview and is content to do his job and do it well. The narrator gives us an interesting analogy for Wakem and Mr. Tulliver:

To suppose that Wakem had the same sort of inveterate hatred towards Tulliver that Tulliver had towards him would be like supposing that a pike and a roach can look at each other from a similar point of view. The roach necessarily abhors the mode in which the pike gets his living, and the pike is likely to think nothing further even of the most indignant roach than that he is excellent good eating. (3.7.42)

Wakem basically views those of a lesser social status as insects and he often does things to people that are mean. But these things are always "socially acceptable" since they are "business" transactions and not personal, violent revenge, like a massive throw-down (see Tulliver’s response towards Wakem).

But Mr. Wakem also has moments of humanity and even kindness. He isn’t a bad father to his son Philip. He even comes around and ends up accepting, though not really supporting, Philip’s relationship with Maggie. Mr. Wakem definitely has a human and an emotional side that shouldn’t be ignored, even though he is, for the most part, defined by his role as a businessman and a lawyer: cold, calculating, and critical.

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