Tess, Frankenstein, and Mill on the Floss: The Endings 

In modern storytelling, the ending is usually wrapped up in a pretty bow with loose ends being tied, generally leaving a satisfied and happy ending for the reader.  However, in Tess of the d’Ubervilles, Frankenstein, and Mill on the Floss, this is not necessarily the case.  All three authors included the tragic deaths of the main characters, with Tess being the only one who had just one protagonist die and not two of them, like Frankenstein and Mill on the Floss.  All the deaths throughout the three books (Tess, Dr. Frankenstein, Frankenstein’s creation, Maggie, and Tom) serve as the reason for the endings to contain themes of grief and injustice, as the main character usually lives to the end and has a happy ending, especially in modern works. 

 

In Tess of the d’Ubervilles, Tess is executed for stabbing Alec to death in the end of the novel.  This death can initially be viewed as a justified death, but because Tess is the main character of the book and subject of the title, the reader is inclined to observe her death as unjustified.  The author, Thomas Hardy, intentionally makes Tess the character that the reader focuses on to possibly affect this response to the ending specifically.  Her death, although technically justified because she murders Alec, can be seen as injustice because she is the protagonist, and this is essentially her story being told.  Tess herself is “almost glad – yes, glad” to die, which makes the reader feel sympathy for her because she thinks that dying would be an end to her suffering (580).  This might help pull the reader in the direction of Tess’s side of the story because it pulls on the emotion of sympathy from the reader.  This death in the end is the best ending in Tess’s mind, although it may not be the stereotypical happy ending for the protagonist.     

 

In Frankenstein, both Victor Frankenstein and the creature tragically die in the end, Victor succumbing to illness and the creature committing suicide after the death of Victor.  These untimely deaths serve as the loose ends being tied up in the novel, but this does not instantly mean that the ending is a happy one.  The gothic novel starts and ends with misery and dismal themes, with Victor feeling the “thirst of knowledge”, which resulted in him attempting to create life and then the dread that followed his success (Ch. 2).  This ending may have been created by Mary Shelley to correct the initial wrong done by Victor, creating an unnatural life, by forcing Victor to die a natural death and then killing off the creature to show the reader that it should not have been given life in the first place.  The reader might feel grief and sorrow for the two main characters because Victor is trying to correct the wrong that he made by creating the monster, and because the creature shows true love for his creator in the end by killing himself out of pain. 

 

Mill on the Floss, written by George Eliot, is similar to Frankenstein in regard to having two of the main characters dying tragic and untimely deaths in the end of the novel.  However, the reader feels the most sympathy for Maggie and Tom, as they die in a horrific flooding accident and were not executed for a crime, like Tess of the d’Ubervilles.  One reason for this ending would be that Maggie and Tom, who had been apart emotionally and physically, would be finally reunited by Maggie attempting to save Tom.  However, this reunion is cut short by the debris crashing into their small rowboat, effectively killing the two.  The reader, not expecting this ending, may be shocked by the deaths but could also take comfort in the possibility that Maggie and Tom “had gone down in an embrace never to be parted” (Ch. 5).  This is the only comfort that the reader can have regarding these deaths because the incident was so sudden and unjustified, and this theme of being together eternally shows that they at least were reunited in the end, both in life and in death.   

 

Tess of the d’Ubervilles is similar to these two novels, Frankenstein and Mill on the Floss, because all of the deaths were not fully expected by the reader and seemed to be very tragic events.  Tess’s death can be seen as unjustified to the reader because of the use of sympathy because of the rape, much like the deaths of Maggie and Tom pulling on the same emotion because they are finally reunited in order to convey the deaths as unfair.  While Frankenstein’s ending may have been more predictable than the others, all three novels did not explicitly hint at the turn of events at each ending, with both Victor and the creature dying, Tess being executed for the murder of her rapist, and Maggie and Tom being suddenly crushed by flood debris.  Tess is different in the sense that it is a more singular death in the end, even though Alec is killed somewhat close to the end.  The reader may not be inclined to include his death as a tragic one because of the rape and his overall character presentation in the novel.  Overall, the deaths in these three novels are similar in many ways, with a few exceptions.   

 

Mill on the Floss as a Bildungsroman Novel

     If one were to define the bildungsroman genre as one that contains a story of a character’s growth, then Mill on the Floss by George Eliot could be considered a bildungsroman novel.  This is because the main protagonist, Maggie, grows with the maturity of her emotions in the novel throughout the story in various instances.  Maggie struggles to deal with impulse behaviors as she is attempting to figure out who she is and how she can express her emotions.  In the first book installment, Maggie feels pangs of jealousy as she watches her sibling, Tom, spending time with one of the more feminine characters, Lucy.  She becomes angry, and she is compelled to “push poor little pink-and-white Lucy into the cow-trodden mud” after Tom angrily tells her to leave them alone (Bk I, Ch. X).  Instead of being mature and asking to join them, Maggie is selfish by interrupting their plans and does something extremely immature by pushing Lucy into the mud, indicating that Maggie is emotionally on an immature level in life in the beginning.  Towards the middle of the novel, Maggie realizes that the books that they grew up with are gone and threw herself into a chair, with the big tears ready to roll down her cheeks” (Bk. III, Ch. VI).  While her emotions are still exploding outward as the tears roll, the reader can see some growth of emotions within Maggie because of the reasons why she is crying.  She is not angry or jealous, like in the scene with Tom and Lucy, but she is heartbroken because their childhood books are gone.  Heartbreak is more of a mature emotion because it requires the person to feel a deep sense of love and attachment for the object or person, which Maggie obviously is attached to the memories and sentiment behind the books.  Instead of being violent to others, Maggie simply breaks down in a healthier way of letting her emotions be known.  Her decrease in violence tells the reader that she is growing by learning consequences of violence and learning how to express her emotions in a normal way, like crying.  Toward the end of the story, Maggie felt as if “she was no longer an unheeded person, liable to be chid, from whom attention was continually claimed” after she is introduced to the life of a young lady at St. Ogg’s (Bk. VI, Ch. VI).  Maggie finally feels comfortable in her own emotions as she is starting this new chapter of her life as a young woman.  This shows to the reader character development because Maggie feels content instead of violent or tearful, much like the varying emotions of a child.  This novel is a bildungsroman novel because its protagonist, Maggie, continually grows throughout the story regarding her emotions and how she deals with them, both internally with herself and externally with other characters.  In the beginning, Maggie does not know how to deal with her emotions of jealousy, so she externally releases them by pushing Lucy into the mud.  In the end, Maggie is happy and content with her emotions and herself because she feels as if she is starting her life over at St. Ogg’s.   

Are gender roles the central theme of Mill on The Floss?

Among the many themes in the book “The Mill on the Floss”, the one that seems to be more prominent is the one about gender roles of the 19th century. One might even consider this book to be a social critique about how these imposed gender roles affect both boys and girls. The author tells us through Maggie and Tom’s example how gender roles go against people’s nature, that they are extremely exaggerated and narrow, that they are unreasonable and, how they have the capability to enhance negative traits and to change people for the worse.

In the novel one can see many examples on how the gender norms and expectations seem to go against both Maggie and Tom’s desires and personality. We have many instances where Maggie is forced to quiet down her opinions even though they are morally correct, like when the family decided to curse Mr. Wakem in their Bible and when she pleaded for them to stop she was reproofed with a “Quiet down Maggie.” From Tom(P.291). Tom on the other hand is often described in the novel as being awkward and he often has difficulty expressing himself like Maggie. When he grows up, the pressure of the house is set on his shoulders upon the sickness of his father, and he is expected to behave and act accordingly like the man of the house. However, his lack of confidence and the pressure of this duty only made him miserable because he had to force himself into that role: “One day was like another, and  Tom’s interest in life, driven back and crushed on every side, was concentrating itself into the one channel of ambitious resistance to misfortune.”(p.297)

The author also makes these gender notions seem exaggerated with phrases like “she’s twice as ‘cute as Tom. Too cute for a woman I’m afraid”(p. 56) perhaps to make the readers of those times realize how silly the gender role expectations truly were. Likewise she makes these norm seem unreasonable like in the case of Mr. Tulliver who chose his wife “ ‘cause she was a bit weak, like; for I wasn’t agoin’ to be told the right o’ things by my own fireside”(p. 64) and in a way back fires. If Mrs. Tulliver would have been more stronger and clever she would had stopped Mr. Tulliver into “going to law” and they would have not ended in poverty. Furthermore, when their situation does come to that, Mrs. Tulliver is not much moral support and ends up wallowing in her own self-pity.

Additionally, one of the most important examples on how said gender roles were illogical is the education of Tom and Maggie. According to the novel, rather than being at school, Tom wanted to be “a substantial man like his father” he wanted to ride, to hunt, and to follow his father’s line of business (p.169), but because Mr. Tulliver wanted him to be a lawyer and to have a more prosperous life as himself Tom was forced into an education which in the end did not help him at all. Maggie, who wanted desperately for an education of her own and to help her family with money was denied such privilege because of her sex. Hence, when poverty came about them they were both miserable in their forced situation; Maggie feeling helpless and Tom having “to carry a ton weight on his back.”(p.287).

Finally, there is a moment in which Maggie reflects on her situation and how  easy it would be for her to fall into a state of bitterness and resentment if it were not for her strong emotions and moral convictions (p.308) which are characteristics that were not deemed favorable or feminine. So one can say that these gender roles almost made her into her aunt Glegg in a way. In Tom’s case the expectations placed upon him because of these gender roles basically heighten his most negative characteristics and made him into someone with “no pity: you have no sense of your own imperfections and your own sins. It is a sin to be hard; it is not fitting for a mortal –for a Christian. You are nothing but a Pharisee. You thank God for nothing but your own virtues—you  they are great enough to win everything else. You have not even a vision of feelings by the side of which your shining virtue are mere darkness!” (p.361) as Maggie says.

In conclusion, the author critiques various aspects of her society, but her clear and varied examples of the notions and expectations of gender make them one of the central and most important themes throughout the novel.

Maggie and Tom

Maggie and Tom’s relationship defines the novel. The beginning of the novel starts with the focus on both Tom and Maggie, even more towards Tom, but by the end of the novel, Maggie is the center. However, despite Maggie being the main focus, she is still concerned with Tom and what he thinks of her. With each fight, comes a tragic event, forcing the siblings to come together thus placing an importance of family by the author.

Maggie always tries to please Tom, and cares heavily for what he thinks about her. Their first interaction in the novel reveals this. When Tom tells Maggie to guess what is in his pockets, she guesses marbles and her “heart sank a little because Tom always said it was ‘no good’ playing with her at those games—she played so badly” (33). This also shows how hard Tom is on Maggie. Marbles should be a game where each person can have fun without caring how they are playing, especially at this age. If it isn’t revealed how harsh he is here, it sure does when she tells Tom she forgot to feed the rabbits. He says: “I don’t love you” and she says, “my heart will break” as she is “shaking with sobs” where he shakes her off. Her burst of emotion does not phase him, and he continues to torture her by listing off certain woes when he is such a good brother to her (36). The toxic relationship continues until they are brought together by the family’s bankruptcy: “They had gone forth together into their new life of sorrow…the golden gates of their childhood had forever closed behind them “ (191). This begins a pattern in the novel. Though Maggie and Tom fight, the author reminds us they are still family and able to come together in times of trouble.

After Tom figures out that Maggie has been seeing Phillip in the woods, he is furious. Of course, Maggie is very conflicted because she knew all along this would displease her father, but more importantly, Tom. He threatens to tell her father if she does not cut off communication with Phillip. Again, he is very harsh with her: “I don’t wish to hear anything of your feelings… Do what I require… I can’t trust you, Maggie. There is no consistency with you” (343). After they tell Phillip, Maggie lashes out at Tom. She says, “Don’t suppose I think you are right, Tom, or that I bow to your will” but with his harsh response, she immediately backs down: “I know I’ve been wrong” (347). Tom is urging Maggie to do what he thinks is the right thing, yet Maggie, knowing the consequences if people find out, still thinks what she’s doing is right also. They are always at odds. At the end of this book, however, they are again brought together by their father’s death. At this point, Tom is fed up with Maggie’s emotions. Tom stresses family loyalty, which leads the reader to believe he is in the right. Though the reader understands both sides, they are again brought together, making them one again, blurring the separation of feelings between the two.

After Maggie goes in the boat with Stephen, Tom has his mind “set” (483). The “worst” has happened — “not death, disgrace” (483). He sends her away from his home, even though she promises to “endure anything” and “be kept from doing wrong again” (485). He is done with Maggie at this point. He is really not heard from until the end when Maggie comes for him in the boat. Then, they are brought together in death— “In their death they were not divided” as written on their gravestone (522). Not only is Tom over Maggie’s emotions, he is now frustrated with her actions. Before when she went off with Phillip in woods, nobody knew, but everybody finds out about the situation with Stephen—which affects him. Before now, Tom has felt that he had a say over Maggie but he has given up because the damage is done. Though Eliot suggests Maggie can recover mentally, Tom cannot. The quote shows this, it is the worst thing that could happen. The only thing Eliot could do is kill them because this is the only way they could be brought together again.

The pattern of Maggie and Tom coming together after what seems to be the worst Maggie has done each time reveals the importance Eliot places of family. Maggie and Tom are never fully separated because they are siblings. Their relationship defines the novel because it is almost as if Eliot writes something tragic into the novel so that Maggie and Tom can be brought together again. This seems to suggest they would not do it on their own, but rather their environment is the only thing keeping them together. Family is the only thing people have as a constant in their life, especially in this time, and each tragic event shows how important it is that they do come together. Since they are always at odds, Eliot has always posed them as opposites, even playing each other’s role (Maggie as having “manly” qualities; Tom as having “womanly qualities”) at times all seems to reveal that they complete each other and need each other, also reinforcing the importance placed on family.