The Mill on the Floss By George Eliot Summary and Analysis Book 2: School-Time: Chapter 7 - The Golden Gates Are Passed

Summary

Tom goes on at King's Lorton until his fifth half-year, while Maggie is sent to a girls' boarding school with Lucy. She does meet Philip once on the street, but she is by then too much a young lady to honor her promise to kiss him. Once their father's lawsuit begins, even Maggie knows they are not likely to be friendly with Philip again. Tom brings home new books from school, and he is left with "a deposit of vague, fragmentary, ineffectual notions." Mr. Tulliver thinks it is "probably all right with Tom's education."

One November day Tom is told that Maggie has come to see him. She tells him that their father has lost the lawsuit and will have to sell everything he owns. "Tom had never dreamed that his father would 'fail'," and the news is "a violent shock." It is worse when Maggie tells him that Mr. Tulliver fell off his horse and has known no one but her ever since. Maggie begins to sob, but Tom cannot do that.

Tom tells the Stellings good-bye, and he and Maggie set out for home, with "the golden gates of their childhood . . . forever closed behind them."

Analysis

Maggie grows "with a rapidity which her aunts considered highly reprehensible." The things which her aunts have considered reprehensible — for example, her "wildness" — have always been of this kind, and not really faults. This is one device the author uses to gain the reader's sympathy for Maggie.

A few lines are given to bringing the plot up to date. We find that "their father was actually engaged in the long-threatened lawsuit," and that Wakem was acting against him. This is a casual introduction to the main action, but with the preparation that has been made in earlier chapters it is sufficient. It has another purpose: it makes the result of the lawsuit come as a sudden shock to the reader, as it comes to Tom and Maggie. But there has been enough preparation that the outcome does not appear implausible.

The passage of time is also handled economically. It is expressed mainly by changes in Tom and Maggie. Tom brings home new books and shows "signs of acquirement"; he is about to begin to shave. Maggie is becoming tall. These touches carry the story into a new phase.

The loss of the lawsuit is the central event in determining Tom's character, although it is less important to Maggie. Tom has always pictured himself cutting a fine figure, and now he is forced to readjust his thinking. This takes the form of turning away from his father's characteristic of putting up a good front, turning to the caution of his mother's family with its insistence that one have more than one appears to have.

Tom and Maggie leave childhood behind them at this point. The author expresses it in an image of Adam and Eve being driven out of Eden, passing the golden gates and going forth "together into their new life of sorrow." Note that the image of Paradise is taken up again much later, with reference to the love of Stephen and Lucy. Lucy at that point is still very much the trusting child, and the use is not inconsistent.

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After the lawsuit and Tom arrives home from school, what does he find his mother most concerned with?




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