The novel opens with a description of the countryside around the town of St. Ogg's and the river Floss. Impersonal description quickly gives way to a more personal tone, and we see that the story is to be a personal reminiscence of a narrator whose character we do not yet know. The narrator notes a wagon passing the mill, and watches a little girl and her dog playing near the water. They remind the narrator of "one February afternoon many years ago" and Mr. and Mrs. Tulliver sitting by the fire in their parlor.
Note the introductory images: the Floss hurries to meet the "loving tide" in an "impetuous embrace." This first sentence contains images which will be used and strengthened throughout the book. Note too how closely the activity of the river is connected with that of the land — "the distant ships seems to be lifting their masts and stretching their red-brown sails close among the branches of the spreading ash."
The little girl and her dog who appear here are a symbol, in the narrator's mind, of the story which is to follow, in which Maggie Tulliver is so often seen with her dog Yap.