Study Guide

The Mill on the Floss Book 4, Chapter 3

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Book 4, Chapter 3

A Voice from the Past

  • After a visit to the mill by Mr. Wakem, Mr. Tulliver is in such a bad mood that he flips out and beats a boy that works for him. Mr. Tulliver has had fits of rage since his illness and he beat his horse one time. Maggie now lives in fear that her father will lose it and beat up his wife.
  • Maggie tries to read one of Tom’s old school books to help her feel better.
  • Bob Jakin appears and pays Maggie a visit.
  • Turns out Bob has bought a couple of books and has brought them to Maggie as a gift since he knows she misses having books.
  • Maggie is very grateful and thanks Bob. The two then discuss Bob’s dog Mumps.
  • Bob then tells Maggie about how he is earning money and Maggie learns that Bob often cons his customers. She disapproves of this and Bob takes it with typical good humor.
  • Bob promises to come visit Tom soon and says goodbye.
  • Maggie then goes off to look at her new books.
  • She’s only had the Bible and some of Tom’s school books to read and Maggie is basically intellectually starving. She longs for music and books and any sort of culture.
  • Her own imagination is no comfort anymore and Maggie is desperate for some sort of answer for why life is so miserable. Maggie seems all set to join a wacky cult.
  • Maggie enjoys reading Tom’s old books for a while, but they aren’t really providing her with answers or making her feel better.
  • She’s starting to get really angry at her family too, and dreams of running away and finding something better for herself.
  • After this little flashback detour, we return to Maggie looking at Bob’s books. Most of the books are little religious tracts of no interest. But Maggie notices Thomas à Kempis’s Imitation of Christ and is intrigued.
  • (Historical Context Lesson! The Imitation of Christ is a Catholic devotional book written in the fifteenth century. The book was hugely influential. It basically presents Christ’s life as a sort of study that people can try to imitate. The book was geared towards monks and ascetics, or people who avoid pleasurable things like food and drink in order to pursue spiritual goals.)
  • Maggie starts reading and has an epiphany, or a sudden realization. This is a life changing moment for her.
  • Kempis’s book is now quoted at length. Basically, the book is saying that people shouldn’t love themselves, but should love others instead. People should deny themselves things and should resign themselves to suffering, since their time on Earth is limited and they can soon die and go to heaven.
  • Maggie thinks this is all fantastic since it helps her cope with her own miserable life. She embarks on a life as a sort of monk, with mixed results.
  • Maggie thinks it’s great that someone hundreds of years ago was suffering like her and gave her such great advice on being miserable. The narrator hints that Maggie isn’t really reading the book correctly and is taking it all to extremes. She is on the path to some sort of martyrdom.
  • Maggie ironically often loses herself in the performance of humility, which isn’t very genuinely humble. Basically, Maggie is trying to not be self-centered but ends up being self-centered anyway with her focus on her own humility and martyrdom.
  • Tom is less than thrilled with this new Maggie and he scolds her for trying to go into town to find work.
  • So Maggie tosses aside all of Tom’s school books and proceeds to read only the Bible and Thomas a Kempis and other religious books.
  • Mrs. Tulliver is happy with this new well-behaved and quiet Maggie. But Mr. Tulliver is concerned for Maggie’s future and he spends his time thinking about having his revenge against Wakem one day.

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