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Literature Study GuidesThe Mill On The FlossBook 7 Chapters 4 5 And Conclusion Summary

The Mill on the Floss | Study Guide

George Eliot

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The Mill on the Floss | Book 7, Chapters 4–5 and Conclusion : The Final Rescue | Summary



Chapter 4: Maggie and Lucy

After his exertions on Maggie's behalf, Dr. Kenn must admit that no one will hire her. He is recently widowed, so he hires her to take care of his own children. Meanwhile, Stephen's sisters believe Maggie has returned to town only because she means to eventually marry their brother. Thus, they feed Stephen as much bad gossip as possible and intend to take Lucy to the coast, away from the August heat, as soon as she is well enough to travel. They also plan to engineer a reconciliation between Stephen and Lucy. To Maggie's surprise, Lucy secretly comes one evening to visit her, throwing her arms around her cousin's neck. Lucy also forgives Maggie and says she knows she never meant to destroy her happiness. Maggie on her part begs Lucy to forgive Stephen and prays to never bring her sorrow again. The two girls hug each other again before Lucy departs.

Chapter 5: The Last Conflict

In the second week of September, Maggie is sitting in her room well past midnight as the rain pounds on the windows. It has been raining for days, first in the counties higher up on the river and now where Maggie lives. Maggie has been let go from her job at Dr. Kenn's because of the virulent gossip, which was interfering with his duties as a clergyman. He again asks Maggie to consider leaving town when he can find her a place.

Maggie has received a letter from Stephen, recently returned from Holland and living in Mudport. He again reproaches her for injuring him and begs her to join her life with his. Maggie is tempted, in large part because she feels Stephen's misery and doubts her own resolve. Nonetheless, she burns the letter and recalls the words of Thomas à Kempis: "I have received the Cross, I have received it from Thy hand; I will bear it till death, as Thou has laid it upon me." As Maggie kneels and prays to the "Unseen Pity," she feels the flood waters and raises the alarm to the Jakin family. Maggie gets into one of the boats, and before Jakin can get his family, both vessels are swept into the flood. She soon finds herself on flooded fields and steers her boat into the river current, thinking about Tom and her mother. She is able to get near the house and mill and finds her brother alone, since Mrs. Tulliver had gone to her sister's house. Tom comes down from the attic, getting in the boat and taking the oar, and soon they are in the river current again, rowing toward Tofton and Lucy's house. But there are many large pieces of debris in the water, and when Tom sees it is too late to save himself and Maggie, he clasps his sister as debris rushes toward them, capsizing the boat and killing them.


Five years after the flood, the wharves and warehouses have been rebuilt, and everyone survives the catastrophe except for brother and sister. Dorlcote Mill is rebuilt, and Maggie and Tom are buried in a tomb in the churchyard next to their father. Stephen visits this monument with his wife Lucy after many years have passed, and Philip visits alone. On the tomb is inscribed these words: "In their death they were not divided."


Tender-hearted Lucy also forgives Maggie, and poor Dr. Kenn risks his own livelihood in hiring her because no one else will. When he must dismiss her because the gossip is threatening to ruin him, Maggie has reached a final dead end, and there is no place for her to retreat to nor find solace. She cannot live in St. Ogg's, but she cannot leave because isolation from familiar surroundings seems unendurable. When Stephen writes to her once again and gives her the opportunity to change her mind and make a grab for happiness, she stubbornly holds onto her resolve. As critic Robert P. Lewis notes, Eliot's efforts to turn Maggie into a saint of self-sacrifice strikes a discordant note, as does her call to the "Unseen Pity that would be with her to the end." In Lewis's view, "This 'Unseen Pity' remains a gratuitous hypothesis, unwarranted by the moral dynamics of the novel to this point." More specifically, no references have been made to a transcendent God, and the narrator's reference to personified pity seems forced.

Even in Eliot's time critics found the ending of the story unsatisfying, with some saying that the author had not prepared the reader sufficiently for the tragedy. Modern critics have noted that the novel never resolves Maggie's spiritual or moral crisis, and some have said the ending abruptly shift the novel from realism to symbolism. Freudian interpretations have explained the ending as a device to finally unite Maggie with Tom, the man who no other man can replace, according to Peggy Fitzhugh Johnstone. In such interpretations, Maggie's inability to separate from Tom (who symbolizes the parents that never met her needs) gives rise to a desire to return to the womb. This regression is accomplished in death, which unites brother and sister in a watery embrace. From another perspective it can be said that, given Maggie's inability to change and grow (in her emotions she never moves far beyond her nine-year-old self), the author creates a dead end in her characterization, necessitating the protagonist's dramatic destruction. After Maggie rejects Stephen for the final time, there is nothing much she can do to change her situation except die. Perhaps the best interpretation of the ending is the one provided by critic Nina Auerbach, who views Maggie as a powerful and demonic force who leaves a trail of blood behind her. She seems to almost magically navigate through the floodwaters and successfully reach her brother. She "lures Tom out of the house where he has found temporary protection—for the waters have stopped rising." Nonetheless, Tom has no other choice than to get in the boat with "Magsie," as he calls her at last. Maggie is transformed into the opposite of the lifesaving Virgin of the legend, and Tom becomes a hapless St. Ogg whose vessel capsizes almost immediately after he takes the oars. Maggie thus accomplishes her long hoped-for reconciliation with the brother who too often rejected her even though he never stopped being the center of her world.

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