The relationship between Maggie and Tom, arguably our two most vital characters, provides an interesting – if odd – dynamic. They are siblings and often act as such, but The Mill on the Floss seems ultimately centered on the proximity of their relationship. This usually depends on Tom’s everchanging view of his sister, as Maggie seems to always hold an extreme love for him. Maggie’s loving and sensitive nature pervades the novel, but only Tom is first in her heart. The novel opens with the relationship between the two while young, setting a tone for the pairing. Maggie begs for his love, crying and declaring “I…lo-lo-love you so, Tom” (Eliot 79). He is often manipulative with the power he holds over her, declaring “I don’t love you,” which upsets her. Eliot shows the reader how deeply Maggie wishes to please her brother and receive love from him. The love between them is fraternal, although several points in the novel may cause the reader to question their closeness. I do not believe that Eliot was intentionally making claims or insights to incest – however, I do see some parallels between Maggie’s relationship with Tom and a romantic but non-sexual connection.
Eliot’s narrative relies on Maggie induce sympathy and better illustrate the traditional characteristics between a non-related couple that the relationship shares. The narration, while third-person, focuses on Maggie in these sections so as to bring the reader closer to her and view the relationship through her. Her intention here is to characterize Maggie in relation to Tom, which makes the reader sympathetic to the protagonist’s simple and childlike desire to be loved by her brother. Because we often see Maggie rejected, Eliot further illustrates her thematic use of rhetoric to induce sympathy in the reader. Maggie does not always face rejection, however. Her heavy inclusion into the narrative of the novel provides detailed description of her other relationships with young men. She has two suitors, Philip Wakem and Stephen Guest. Despite her other relationships, however, Maggie continuously demonstrates how deeply she cares for Tom above all others. “‘I love Tom so dearly…better than anybody else in the world. When he grows up, I shall keep his house, and we shall always live together’” (Eliot 26). Since childhood, Maggie has not been able to imagine a future without Tom, and therefore wishes to forever live under him and his roof. Tom, however, never has any romantic conquests. He imagines the same life for them, and personally “meant always to take care of her make her his housekeeper, and punish her when she did wrong” (Eliot 83). Here in lies Tom’s motivation of a traditional and patriarchal seat of power. Unlike Maggie, driven by love, Tom focuses more so on himself. Eliot describes this through traditional roles and active diction. He resigns Maggie’s future under him, and demonstrates his ultimate need for power through active verbs like “take,” “make,” and “punish” (Eliot 83). Although they arrived at this symbiosis in different ways, they both desire and consent to a relationship that they hold above all others. Eliot concludes the novel through the dynamism of Maggie and Tom’s relationship.
The ending of the novel reinforces the idea that Maggie and Tom have a relationship that transcends all others. Eliot solidifies the bond between them through their intimate sharing of death. She describes that “brother and sister had gone down in an embrace never to be parted— living through again in one supreme moment, the days when they had clasped their little hands in love, and roamed the daisied fields together” (Eliot 467) This eternal embrace mimics that of the eternal physicality and spirituality in marriage. God ordains these connections through marriage ceremony, but also through the fact that Maggie and Tom walk together in the afterlife. The culmination of the novel acts to illustrate that through the entire narrative, Tom and Maggie are meant to be together, and will forever remain as such.