When considering the application of a general extrapolation from a character’s story, it is common to isolate the internal and external events in accordance with the person which they directly relate to. Mill on the Floss poses as an exception to this principle, where a thematic difference between expected gender roles are made most apparent when pairing the characters of Tom and Maggie together. This pairing, among others, provides an illustration of many of the social issues during the time which Eliot was living.
With what began as sibling rivalry that grew with age, a message concerning the disparity between males and females over-loomed the surface picture of familial struggle. While the Tulliver’s intrapersonal struggles can be seen as a subtle commentary on the condition of gender roles within a household, the conclusions drawn from this argument can be applied to western culture overall. These conclusions I refer to vary by gender, where males are expected to be picturesque masculine figures who also serve as providers, and females conversely are household laborers whose meek influence rarely spreads outside the front door to their own homes. This is evident by Mr. Tulliver’s decision to send Tom to school for “Tom to be a bit of a Scholard” (53), but leaves Maggie behind to go on wit her “patch-work, like a little lady” (58). This specific example shows how gender roles have infiltrated both societal norms as well as family tradition.
Later on in the novel another example is given, where Tom and Maggie argue over their inherent characteristics. The underlying issue here has to do with an imbalance of power, specifically described by Maggie here as “dominance” (261) several times. Tom tells Maggie that (from the perspective of Tom to Maggie.) “You think you know better than any one, but you’re almost always wrong. I can judge much better than you can” (261). Tom, in great irony, describes his most apparent flaws and projects them upon Maggie, doing so because he has more perceived dominance over Maggie much in the same way men had more perceived dominance over women. It is in this irony that many of the struggles women faced became laid bare for the reader, where the third-person narrator interjects with an insight into Maggie’s (and subsequently women overall) mind- “They were very bitter tears; everybody in the world seemed so hard and unkind to Maggie: there was no indulgence, no fondness, such as she imagined when she fashioned the world afresh in her own thoughts” (261). The hyperbole of everyone in the world being unkind to Maggie is not as much as a dramatization as it is a relation to the struggles of Maggie with the struggles of women across the globe.