Book 1: Boy and Girl

1. In Chapter 1, what is the effect of the narrator describing Dorlcote Mill as he or she stands there looking upon it?

2. Why is so much made of Maggie's hair in Chapter 2? What does the discussion of her hair tell us about Mr. and Mrs. Tulliver?

3. What is the significance of the book that Maggie shows Mr. Riley (Defoe's History of the Devil)?

4. In Chapter 4, Luke tells Maggie: "`I can't do wi' knowin' so many things besides my work. That's what brings folk to the gallows--knowin' everything but what they'n got to get their bread by." How are his comments relevant to the matters that preoccupy the Tullivers in the early stages of the novel?

5. What do we learn about the differences between Maggie and Tom in Chapter 5?

6. What is the significance of Bob and Tom's discussion about rat-catching and their subsequent game of Heads and Tails that leads to the altercation?

7. How does Eliot use characterization to distinguish among all of the relatives gathered at the Tulliver's in Chapter 7?

8. How does Chapter 8 help us develop a more complete picture of Mr. Tulliver?

9. Earlier in the novel, Maggie is called a "Pythoness" and in Chapter 10 she is compared to the "Medusa." What is the significance of this allusion to Greek myth and how are these snake images symbolic?

10. What is the significance of Maggie's encounter with the gypsies when she runs away?

11. Why does Chapter 12 begin with the legend of St. Ogg's?

12. Why does Mrs. Glegg decide not to write Maggie and Tom out of her will when she receives Tulliver's letter?

Book 2: School-Time

1. In Chapter 2 of "School-Time," the reader learns that Mr. Tulliver sees the law as a cock-fight in which "it was the business of injured honesty to get a game bird with the best pluck and the strongest spurs." What does this attitude towards the law say about Mr. Tulliver?

2. Why does Eliot give Philip a hump-back?

3. What is the significance of the "sword dropping" episode?

4. Eliot is well known for her use of biblical imagery. Is there evidence of this at the close of Volume I. If so, why is it here?

5. Discuss the similarities and differences in Eliot's characterization of Maggie and Tom to this point in the novel.

Book 3: The Downfall

1. In Chapter 2, Bessy Tulliver is found by Tom and Maggie watching over her precious linens, monogrammed table cloths, and various other possessions. Are we meant to interpret Bessy's behaviour as fundamentally selfish or do we empathize with the position in which her husband has put her?

2. Earlier in the novel, Tom and Bob Jakin get into a bit of a scrape over their game of Heads and Tails. What, then, is the significance of Bob's reappearance in Chapter 6?

3. What does Bessie's meeting with Wakem tell us about the similarities and differences between the latter and Mr. Tulliver? Why does Eliot have Mrs. Tulliver contribute to her husband's downfall?

4. What is the significance of Mr. Tulliver taking out a Bible and forcing Tom to sign an oath swearing never to forgive Wakem?

Book 4: The Valley of Humiliation

1. What is the importance of the opening chapter of Book Four? How does it help us understand the Dodsons and the Tullivers?

2. How is Chapter 3 significant in helping us understand the evolution of Maggie's character? Why is her new approach to dealing with her emotions by suppressing them ultimately doomed to fail?

Book 5: Wheat and Tares

1. Discuss the importance of foreshadowing in Chapter 4 of this book. How is it connected to Eliot's use of water imagery?

2. Eliot certainly could have had Mr. Tulliver die before seeing his debts paid off. Why is it significant that he lives long enough to see them overcome through Tom's resourcefulness?

3. In what sense is Tom successful in upholding the memory of his father, and in what sense is he unsuccessful?

Book 6: The Great Temptation

1. Discuss the symbolic importance of music in The Mill on the Floss. How can it be compared to other major metaphors in Eliot's novel?

2. In Chapter 4, why does Tom ultimately compromise in letting Maggie have a friendship with Philip.

3. Is Stephen a villain for betraying his engagement vows or does Eliot mean for us to see his position as being rather complicated?

4. What is the significance of Maggie's sewing in The Mill on the Floss?

5. Is Philip's confrontation with his father in Chapter 8 an act of heroism? How does the novel define what it means to be a hero?

6. Why can Philip tell that something is happening between Stephen and Maggie, and yet Lucy cannot figure this out until she learns of their infamous boat ride?

7. In Chapter 14, what is the significance of Maggie's dream?

Book 7: The Final Rescue

1. Is Tom justified in the way he reacts to Maggie's aborted elopement with Stephen?

2. If you were directing a film version of The Mill on the Floss, how would you depict the flood and the deaths of Maggie and Tom? Would you make their fatal ending purely the result of an unfortunate accident, or are other interpretations possible?

3. What is the purpose of Eliot's "Conclusion?" Why does the novel not simply end with the deaths of its two central characters?

Overview George Eliot

Last modified 2000