Study Guide

The Mill on the Floss Home

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Life did change for Tom and Maggie; and yet they were not wrong in believing that the thought and loves of these first years would always make part of their lives. We could never have loved the earth so well if we had no childhood in it [...] (1.5.78)

Memory and the past are very closely tied to themes of home in this novel. Basically, home is home for certain characters because they have memories, or have had "childhoods," in that home. Tom and Maggie thus have a strong emotional tie to the mill because they grew up there.

He felt the strain of this clinging affection for the old home as part of his life part of himself. He couldn’t bear to think of himself living on any other spot than this, where he knew the sound of every gate and door [...] (3.9.2)

Mr. Tulliver is here feels that his entire identity is rooted in his home. His home is where he can really be himself fully.

Our instructed vagrancy which has hardly time to linger by the hedgerows, but runs away early to the tropics and is at home with palms and banyans, - which is nourished on books of travel and stretches the theatre of its imagination to the Zambesi can hardly get a dim notion of what an old-fashioned man like Tulliver felt for this spot where all his memories centered and where life seemed like a smooth-handled tool that the fingers clutch with loving ease. (3.9.2)

Eliot here is discussing the British Empire, and how so many people now move very far away from their birthplace and are "instructed" in being nomads and travelers. Tulliver, meanwhile, takes solace in the familiarity of his home. Intriguingly, Eliot’s words are still largely applicable today.

"There’s a story as when the mill changes hands, the river’s angry - I’ve heard my father say it many a time." (3.9.5)

Mr. Tulliver here is commenting on a legend that the river floods if the family mill ever gets a new owner, which reinforces the theme of the family home and also foreshadows the flood that concludes the novel.

"Ay, sir," said Luke, "you’d be a deal better here nor in some new place. I can’t abide new plazen mysen: things is allays awk’ard." (3.9.8)

Luke here concisely sums up the problem with leaving home: new places are awkward. Among other things home is a place of confidence since you know what to expect there.

Poor Mrs. Tulliver, it seemed, would never recover her old self - her placid household activity: how could she? the objects among which her mind had moved complacently were all gone [...] (4.2.2)

For Mrs. Tulliver "home" was rooted in her household possessions. Having lost those, Mrs. Tulliver is herself lost. These objects essentially anchored her and she is now set adrift and is confused.

Yet Maggie’s eyes began to fill with tears. The sight of the old scenes had made the rush of memories so painful that even yesterday she had only been able to rejoice [in being home] as we rejoice in good news of friends at a distance rather than in the presence of a happiness which we share. Memory and imagination urged upon her a sense of privation too keen to let her taste what was offered in the transient present [...] (6.2.29)

Having left home, Maggie finds it difficult to find comfort in being back once more among familiar places and with familiar people. Memory and the past are so powerful for Maggie that she can only keep feeling homesick and sad even after she is back home once again.

"It is not the force that ought to rule us - this that we feel for each other - it would rend me away from all that my past life has made dear and holy to me. I can’t set out on a fresh life, and forget that - I must go back to it, and cling to it, - else I shall feel as if there were nothing firm beneath my feet." (6.14.45)

Home for Maggie is largely mental. It is her memory and her past, which are rooted in the mill and the land around St. Ogg’s. The physical features of her home often seem somewhat secondary to the mental and emotional features though.

"Your prompting to go to our nearest friends - to remain where all the ties of your life have been formed - is a true prompting, to which the church in its original constitution and discipline responds [...]." (7.2.13)

Dr. Kenn reaffirms Maggie’s desire to remain in her home, linking the importance of home to the community spirit of the Christian church. This is one of the few direct references we get to organized religion; religion is mostly discussed in terms of spirituality and morality in this book.

"O, if I could but stop here!" said Maggie. "I have no heart to begin a strange life again. I should have no stay. I should feel like a lonely wanderer - cut off from the past." (7.2.21)

It is notable that Maggie echoes her father here when she too is faced with the choice of whether or not to leave her home.

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