Study Guide

The Mill on the Floss Choices

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Choices are rarely black and white in The Mill on the Floss. Though certain characters like to force people to choose between two arbitrary alternatives (we’re looking at you, Tom), choices are rarely that easy. Choices are much more like a tangled web of competing options, none of which are absolutely right or absolutely wrong. Choice is also never without consequences, often very painful ones. In the end, characters have to decide not only what choice to make but also what factors to consider in making a choice. Do characters favor family in their decisions, or themselves? The past or the present, friendship or romance? Choices are endless and are infinitely complicated.

Questions About Choices

  1. One of the big debates in the book is between Philip and Maggie on the issue of sacrificing individual desires for others. Philip feels that it’s important to be true to yourself and Maggie emphasizes things like family duty over herself. Who do you agree with in this debate?
  2. Another major debate is between Stephen and Maggie on the past in the decision-making process. Stephen says that the present is what matters, while Maggie says it’s important to remember past obligations when making decisions. Is either of them right or wrong, or are they both right here?
  3. Choices in this book are often difficult and often cause other people pain. Are any characters able to make decisions that avoid causing people pain, or is pain unavoidable?

Chew on This

Characters in The Mill on the Floss often struggle to choose between themselves and others, oftentimes family. However, the novel overall seems to argue for striking a balance between the individual and others when making choices.

Maggie’s death at the end of the novel is a symbolic statement of the fact that Maggie was never able to find a way to balance out her individual desires and her obligations to other people in her decision-making processes. Death was the only way to solve the conundrum, or confusing and unsolvable situation, in which Maggie found herself.

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