Compassion can be very hard to come by in The Mill on the Floss. Most characters seem more inclined to hold grudges, plot revenge, maintain prejudices, and spread rumors. The feelings of other people are often not considered. Yet, people lacking in compassion aren’t presented as evil or even all that bad in this book. Compassion and the ability to forgive other people are hard qualities to maintain. And a lot of characters rationalize their lack of compassion and forgiveness. Tom sees his loyalty to his father as a good reason to maintain a grudge against the Wakems, for instance. Compassion and forgiveness are depicted as qualities worth fighting for, however.
Questions About Compassion and Forgiveness
At one point Maggie notes that blame never does any good and argues for forgiveness. Are there any other characters who seem to subscribe to Maggie’s philosophy of forgiveness?
Tom has a very severe view of justice, and feels that he never punishes anyone who doesn’t deserve it. How does Tom’s view of justice help to define his character?
Tom and Maggie seem to forgive one another on the boat just before they drown. If the two hadn’t died, do you think they actually would have been able to reconcile and rebuild their relationship or not? Is there any evidence in their respective characters and opinions that leads you feel one way or the other?
Chew on This
Mr. Tulliver’s desire for revenge against Mr. Wakem is misguided, since Mr. Wakem was only doing his job and wasn’t setting out to deliberately ruin the Tullivers’ lives.
Tom’s inability to forgive Maggie her sins, or what he perceives to be her sins, results from the fact that he loves her as much as he does.