Maggie as a Destructive Force

Eliot seems to associate destruction with Maggie Tulliver throughout Mill on the Floss. From the beginning, Maggie unintentionally breaks things or treats them with violence. She accidentally kills Tom’s rabbits and knocks over his house of cards. She pushes Lucy into the mud and impulsively cuts off her own hair. As a child, her anger is taken out on a Fetish, which “was now entirely defaced by a long career of vicarious suffering” (27). She later internalizes this anger and suffering, which is destructive to herself. When she hugs Tom, Eliot writes that, “Maggie hung on his neck in a rather strangling fashion” (31). At the very least, her relationship with Tom is characterized by violence and destruction. However, because Eliot focuses on Maggie’s point of view in the novel, her acts of destruction come through as accidental acts of love. This destructive and unruly tendency puts her almost as an “other” and as an outcast.

Later, as she begins to internalize such destruction, she begins to deny herself. When she is unable to deny herself, her relationships suffer. Although it was possible that, because Mill on the Floss is focused on Maggie’s point of view, we do not know much about the relationships of other characters, it seems as if Maggie’s relationships are the most tumultuous. Aside from the massive quarrel she has with Tom over Philip, she does not appear very close to her other relatives. She tears apart the relationship between Lucy and Stephen—albeit not in a malicious way—and then her own relationship with Stephen disintegrates. This of course causes a rift between herself and Lucy and, of course, Philip. Although Maggie did not act destructively intentionally, she still manages to destroy relationships around her. This obviously leads to the downfall of her reputation and her ostracism from society again.

In the very end, Maggie has mended nearly all of her relationships except for arguably the most important one—her relationship with her brother. In trying to fix this relationship—the one most characterized by violence–she dies an untimely and almost violent death. Before she dies, Eliot describes her as having, “eyes of intense life” (482), which points to the extremes of emotion that lead to multiple instances of destruction. Even though she is reunited with Tom and Eliot seems to imply it was good for them to be united in death, I feel that her untimely death was characteristic of her destructive force.

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