Justified Unrighteous Anger

In Mill and the Floss by George Elliot, both Mr Tulliver and his son Tom use the family Bible in order to cast revenge on the Wakems. Neither like the Wakems, the father because he lost his lawsuit to Mr. Wakem, and Tom because of his father’s views and the harm that came to him. In using the Bible in this way, however, both men are breaking with what most would consider to be a Christian way of doing things, especially in the fact that they each have another swear upon the Bible to do something that they may not want to do. Therefore the question that remains is why did the two male Tullivers use God’s Word in this way.

One view of the matter would be that they thought this use of the Bible was acceptable. When Maggie tries to tell her father that what he wanted to write in the Bible was wicked, Mr. Tulliver retorted, “It’s wicked as the raskills should prosper — it’s the devil’s doing.” (Book 3 Chapter 9 Page 291) Tom later agrees to sign his name in the Bible under a statement claiming that he will make Wakem pay if he is ever able to. Neither, therefore, seem to show any sort of repugnance of the act, and indeed seem to find it to be the moral thing to do. Tom, after all, follows his father’s example and makes Maggie swear not to see Phillip again without his knowledge “with [her] hand on [their] father’s Bible” (Book 5 Chapter 5 Page 357). Here we see not only that the men do not mind making vows of revenge on the Bible, but also that they do not mind making family members do the same. This would seem to indicate that they believe that this is something that is not inherently wrong.

Another possibility, however, is that the Tullivers don’t care that their actions are wrong. This would seem to be at odds with their behavior, Tom’s especially, as they both tried to be good and honest men. However, in both cases Maggie tries to fight against this swearing on the Holy Book, and both times she is shot down. The men seem set in their ways, her father saying that he isn’t being wicked, Wakem is, and her brother saying that he doesn’t “wish to hear anything of [her] feelings”, he just wants her to choose (Book 5 Chapter 5 Page 357). This shows how stubborn the men are in refusing to listen to Maggie, and this stubbornness could lead from them being in the wrong. They know they are wrong but are so upset or angry, or devoted to family in Tom’s case, that they are still willing to carry through with the act, nevermind the morality or the consequences of it.

One other reading of this is that neither man actually places much stock on the Bible itself. Obviously the family goes to church, and are at least somewhat religious, but each seems to treat the Bible as more of a tool. Mr. Tulliver has all the names of the family written in the Bible, and uses it almost as a spiritual will when he has Tom promise to get revenge in it. Tom uses it as insurance that Maggie will do what he wants. When Maggie claims that she can swear just not on the Bible, Tom tells her that he can’t trust her and that she must “do what [he] requires” (Book 5 Chapter 5 Page 357). Therefore the Bible here is just a tool to make sure that Maggie keeps her word, nothing more. Of course each shows that there is more significance to God’s Word than other things, as that is what they use as a tool, but they use it as a tool none the less and therefore it could be argued that they do not place much stock in the Holy Book for it’s words, instead valuing it for how they can use it.

Whatever the case may be, it is interesting that both Tulliver men use the Bible in order to force their family to agree to do things that would harm others, specifically the Wakems. This shows that there is some breakdown in thinking or morality, but whatever the case is George Elliot makes this and interesting dynamic in her book The Mill on the Floss.

One thought on “Justified Unrighteous Anger

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *