The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot and Great Expectations Essay Example
The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot and Great Expectations Essay Example

The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot and Great Expectations Essay Example

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  • Pages: 10 (2581 words)
  • Published: December 5, 2017
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The novels The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot and Great Expectations by Charles Dickens can both be said to be classified in a genre known as "bildungsromans" that is, they both chart the development of young persons. The Mill one the Floss however, contains two, as it follows the story of both Maggie and Tom. Both novels were published within a year of one another and this is apparent in the themes which both authors explore. The central protagonists in each novel appear to be divergent with society and the obstacles which they meet during the novels are indicative of the time in which they were written.

Both Maggie, Tom and Pip all encounter obstacles during their childhood and subsequent development to adulthood and an opposition with the social order is apparent in each tale. All thre


e characters are in perpetual discord with the educational system and also, in the case of Pip and Tom, the Victorian idea of a gentleman. This would seem likely when the background of each author is examined. George Eliot masqueraded as a man for many years and felt she must repress her intellectuality. Dickens was denied the education he seeked as a result of his father being sent to prison.

Maggie Tulliver is also a repressed intellectual and from an early age is told that she is too clever by her father. Mr Tulliver summarises prevailing attitudes of the day when he states that: An over-cute woman's no better nor a long-tailed sheep. 1 This attitude reflects the masculine view of intelligent woman at the time and indicates that Maggie has no place in this patriarchal society. However, Georg

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Eliot herself was living proof that women could escape their expected role and become educated. Maggie has a completely contrasting attitude with Toms regarding education. She wishes to learn and expand her knowledge.

Tom, however, places no value upon education, and this is reflected in his ruminations: When people were grown-up, he considered, no one enquired about their writing and spelling. 2 Tom shuns Maggie's thirst for knowledge and criticises her when she expresses her desire to be a "clever woman. " He tells her "everybody'll hate you" echoing Eliot's own relationship with her brother. 3 Even Mr. Riley, an educated man, advises her to read "prettier books. "4 However, Eliot subtlety shows him to be a hypocrite when he fails to advise Mr. Tulliver impartially concerning the matter of Tom's tutor.

At this time girls were educated in modern languages, modern history, art and reading and the only career option was to be a governess or a teacher. Boys, however, gained a classical education: Latin, Greek and advance mathematics, and subsequently trained as lawyers or clergyman or went to University. Early in the novel Mr. Tulliver states that: What I want is to give Tom a good eddication; an eddication as'll be a bread to him. 5 The irony is that Tom's "eddication" is of no use to him.

When he queries why he must learn Latin, Phillip Wakem informs him that: It's part of the education of a gentleman... ll gentlemen learn the same things. 6 Eliot then comments upon the Victorian gentleman when she says: Gentlemen with broad chests and ambitious intentions do sometimes disappoint their friends by failing to carry the world before them...

perhaps it is that these stalwart gentlemen are rather indolent. 7 Eliot is reflecting upon the fact that many gentlemen live upon the family wealth and do not pursue their ambitions as they have no need to. In doing so, Tom's unsuitability for this type of education becomes apparent; he wishes to work on the mill and maintain the family business.

Tom's education emasculates him during his time at Mr. Stelling's. As D. Barrett states: He is humiliated; he is made to tend to a child; he is told that he lacks the necessary equipment to be a man. 8 Indeed, this education proves to be of little use to him, as later in the novel when he attempts to gain employment Mr. Deane tells him it has: Whitened your hands and taken the rough work out of you. 9 Mr. Deane cannot provide him with work when the family desperately need money as he has no employable skills such as bookkeeping and calculation.

The irony is that both Maggie and Tom are both doing the type of education which would suit the other person. Maggie craves learning and fantasises about the books which elude her: Even at school she had longed for books with more in them: everything she learned there seemed like the ends of long threads that snapped immediately. 10 Maggie was sent to school but Eliot chooses to only include this fact briefly and no detail is given, however, this is purposely done to emphasise that her education was not satisfying.

Maggie craves a masculine education and we are told that she: ... began to nibble at this thick-rinded fruit of the tree of

knowledge... and feeling a gleam of triumph now and then that her understanding was quite equal to these particularly masculine studies. 11 Eliot parallels Maggie with Eve here, indicating that she is eating forbidden fruit and therefore she in conflict with society and its attitude to female education. Pip, the central character in Great Expectations also strives to become educated. He wishes, unlike Tom, to become a gentleman.

However, his efforts are continually thwarted and he cannot ever be a true gentleman. He says to Biddy "I want to be a gentleman" then later rejects her after she has aided him in his quest. 12 However, a true gentleman must be one in manner and lineage; that is, relatives in respectable professions and living from private family money. Like Maggie, Pip is intellectually frustrated and registers his dissatisfaction by attempting to elevate his position in society. He rejects his apprenticeship at the forge and begins a new life, living from a secret benefactor's money.

However, Pip is deluded as to his benefactor's identity; he believes it to be Miss. Havisham, when in fact it is Magwitch, the criminal. Dickens shows us that Pip is constantly in conflict with society as whilst he becomes a gentleman he becomes less likeable. As Robert Stange says: ... his moral values deteriorate as his social graces improve. 13 He neglects Joe and become snobbish and disdainful and loses much in the process of becoming a gentleman. Pip cannot conform to the demands of being a gentleman: he is in a constant melee with society.

His conflict with society can also be said to However, Dickens does, like Eliot, criticise the gentleman in

his portrayal of characters such as Bentley Drummle and Compeyson. Pip's education, like Toms, is futile ultimately, as he becomes a clerk for Herbert's company at the end of the novel to pay his creditors. Both Maggie and Pip appear to be tainted by corruption and connotations of crime permeate each novel and each characters progress. From an early age Maggie is compared to gypsies and her appearance is frequently likened to that of a Romany.

The jail imagery used in the novel also reflects Maggie's isolation and rejection by society, a society only concerned with appearances. When she cuts her hair, Uncle Glegg prefigures her dismissal from society when he says: She must be sent to jail I think. 14 Maggie is constrained by society and is feared by it. As previously stated, she is likened to Eve, and Eliot draw's the reader's attention to this deliberately. Maggie feels a guilt from birth rather like original sin. She is not able to meet society's demands and is unfairly victimised as a result.

Pip, like Maggie, feels a guilt from birth which can also be paralleled with original sin. He is born feeling guilty that he was the only one to survive his family at the beginning of the novel, in the graveyard. At the Christmas lunch the family assume he is "naturally wicious" and his assumptions of his guilt are enhanced further. This surreal sense of guilt increases to the point where Pip thinks he has murdered Mr. Pumblechook and has visions of Miss. Havisham hanging. Robert Sell, a critic, believes that it is this guilt which ultimately leads him to an awareness of his behaviour

and, ultimately, it is his salvation.

He says: Pip's sense of guilt is then awareness of his own sin, and moves him to reformation. 15 Crime pervades the whole novel and Pip is inextricably involved all the way, after his initial meeting with Magwitch, who forces him to rob Joe. This then leads to the leg-iron which Orlick uses to brutally attack his sister and later, when Pip goes to London, Jagger's office is situated in the vicinity of Newgate prison. Later in the novel, Pip comments upon this unfortunate predicament when he learns the identity of his benefactor:

How strange it was that I should be encompassed by all this taint of prison and crime, that in my childhood out on our lonely marshes on a winter evening I should have first encountered it; that, it should have reappeared on two occasions, starting out like a stain that was faded but not gone; that, it should in this way pervade my fortune and advancement. 16 Dickens shows the reader that the respectable veneer of society is masking a criminal underworld. Even Estella and Miss. Havisham are touched by it, therefore Pip's dreams of respectability are continually unfulfilled.

Both novels also show the central protagonist in opposition with the values of society in various ways. Both Maggie and Pip feel a desire to be loved. Eliot's narration begins with a description of the landscape and the language is extremely sensual: ... the loving tide, rushing to meet it, checks its passage with an impetuous embrace. 17 This narration is seen through Maggie's eyes. She is portrayed as a loving person throughout the novel, from her devoted attentions to

her father, to her ardent love for Tom. Perhaps her constant search for his affections is indicative of her wishing to be loved, yet keep her independence.

She also forms a close friendship with Phillip Wakem. She does not reject him as a result of his deformity, indeed we are told that Maggie prefers the "wry-necked lambs" to the strong ones. 18 Maggie does not meet with society's demands, however, and, in spite of her love for Phillip, is told she must not continue the relationship. Her being in love with him in unacceptable to her family because he is Wakem's son. Later she rejects Stephen Guest's proposal. This is one example of Maggie striving to claim her independence in a society which imposes rules of conduct upon women.

Later, however, she elopes with Stephen in the boat and, in asserting her independence in again refusing to marry him, seals her condemnation by society. As Gillian Beer states, this society cannot provide Maggie with satisfaction of any form: Desires in this society cannot be satisfied. Maggie gives expression to desires which cannot be contained in any of the social forms available... The desires (for knowledge, sexual love, freedom) are not different from those of men; the difference is the breaking of the taboo on them, the claiming of them as female desires. 19

Pip also desires to be loved but is spurned throughout the novel. Every female in his life treats him with contempt and those who do not, for example, Biddy, he rejects. His love for Estella is never reciprocated although this is mainly due to Miss. Havisham poisoning her against men. Even when Pip decides to

marry Biddy he is too late - Joe has beaten him to it! His mother figure, Mrs. Joe, is an aggressive women who shows him little compassion. This alienation from woman in the novel only further serves to heighten Pip's conflict with society and, like Maggie, he is destined not to have a lasting relationship.

Even nature and the world are at odds with the individual in the two novels. Maggie, who seems to be in harmony with nature at the onset of the novel, ultimately dies at the hand of nature in the flood. As she grows older, the seasons become more oppressive. Eliot shows Maggie's increasing isolation in this way, for example, when her father loses the mill she takes no delight from the outdoors which once held so much joy for her: Maggie's sense of loneliness, and utter privation of joy, had deepened with the brightness of advancing spring.

All the favourite outdoor ooks about home, which seemed to have done their part with her parents in nurturing and cherishing her, were now mixed up with the home-sadness, and gathered no smile from the sunshine. 20 Dickens also shows Pip's conflict with society in this manner. After his meeting with Magwitch we are told that his world is irreconcilably changed forever: The marshes were just a long black horizontal line then, as I stopped to look after him; and the river was just another horizontal line, not nearly so broad nor yet so black; and the sky was just a row of long angry red lines and dense black lines intermixed. 21

The world is a sinister place for Pip now and even the signposts

seem to point to him indicating his guilt. The narration of each novel differs. Eliot narrates the novel in the third person, and is sympathetic towards Maggie's plight: she too was, according to Jenny Uglow, "a strong-minded woman, ostracised from polite society. "22 Dickens, however, provides a critique of society, but rather presents Pip himself narrating the novel in the first person. We see his struggle with societal pressures and accumulating arrogance and finally his acceptance of the human condition and we do identify with him.

To conclude: both novelists reflect on the societal restraints imposed upon the individual at the time, exhibiting a social realism through the development of their central character's actions. Each main protagonist is thwarted by society; it fails them and their needs and desires. Each one never quite achieve their full potential: Maggie never does procure intellectual satisfaction. She is in continual conflict with societal expectations of female conduct and role until her death. Jenny Uglow summarises Maggie's predicament as:

The conflict between the new drive for autonomy and the older ethic of self-sacrifice; the difficulty of achieving independence without losing the possibility of sexual passion and a family life. 23 Tom also despises the male "gentlemanly" education that his father provides for him and is prevented from following the career path that he would have chosen. Pip is an outsider from the very onset of the novel. He desperately wishes to be a gentleman but cannot escape the taint of criminality which pervades the whole of the novel.

Dickens shows the reader that corruption is everywhere in Victorian England and Pip's final acceptance of Magwitch reflects his release from the snobbery and

arrogance which clouds his character; his humility at the end of the novel, whilst working for Herbert, signifies that his conflict is over: We owed so much to Herbert's ever cheerful industry and readiness, that I often wondered how I had conceived that old idea of his inaptitude, until I was one day enlightened by the reflection, that perhaps the inaptitude had never been in him at all, but had been in me. 24

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