Study Guide

The Mill on the Floss Gender

By George Eliot

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Tom and Maggie represent opposite sides of many themes in The Mill on the Floss, and gender inequality is no exception. Basically, men had all the rights in the Victorian period. Tom bosses Maggie around accordingly, and has advantages that Maggie does not, especially educational opportunities. But women aren’t the only ones who get a raw deal here. Men can't always act the way they want either. The world of this novel has a very narrow view of how women and men should behave. And men like Philip, who is artistic and sensitive, are derided as "feminine" and considered "unmanly," just as Maggie is often considered scandalous for her bold nature.

Questions About Gender

  1. Why do you think we only see Tom’s experience at school, as opposed to Maggie’s and Lucy’s schooling?
  2. Philip is often made fun of for being "feminine." Even the narrator refers to Philip as "womanly." If Philip is supposedly feminine, then what are some of the traits that characterize appropriate "masculinity" in this novel?
  3. Maggie complains to Tom that he has more power than her because he is a man. What are some of the ways that Tom has definite gender advantages over Maggie? As a woman, does Maggie have any advantages over Tom?
  4. The narrator comments on Maggie’s inner conflict and Tom’s outer conflict, drawing an analogy to the difference between women and men in general. Do you this sort of inner/outer conflict divide is true for men and women in general in this book, or does it really apply more to just Tom and Maggie?

Chew on This

The differences and conflicts between Tom and Maggie actually represent the gender divisions and issues that plagued Victorian England as a whole.

Maggie was often treated worse than Tom when they were growing up because she was a girl.

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