The Mill on the Floss By George Eliot Summary and Analysis Book 5: Wheat and Tares: Chapter 3 - The Wavering Balance

Summary

Maggie goes home from the meeting with Philip thinking that further meetings would be a kindness to him and at the same time would make "her mind more worthy of its highest service . . . ." Nevertheless, she feels a warning that she is throwing herself under the "guidance of illimitable wants." When they meet again, she says first that concealment is wrong and that discovery would bring misery. However, she agrees to stay another half-hour. Philip tells her he has started another picture of her and that he must study her now while he can. When Maggie remarks that he thinks more of painting than of anything, he replies that he thinks of too many things. He has "susceptibility in every direction, and effective faculty in none"; but unlike most men he is unsatisfied with mediocrity. Maggie says she once thought she could not bear life as it was always the same, but resignation has brought her peace. Philip tells her that "stupefaction is not resignation" and that she is trying to stupefy herself. Maggie feels the truth of this and yet feels that it is false to apply it to her conduct.

Philip wishes to talk of other things while they can be together, so Maggie asks him to sing. He sings a song familiar from their days together at King's Lorton. Maggie cannot bear the memory and starts to go. Philip tries again to convince her that she cannot carry on "this self-torture." She still refuses to stay; but she does not deny Philip the opportunity to come there again and meet her by chance. She is even happy at "this subterfuge."

Philip justifies this to himself by thinking that it will be "better for Maggie's future life"; but he is "half independent of justifying motives" because of his longing for Maggie. His deformity, and the fact that even Maggie feels only pity for him, only increase his need. He has never known a mother's love, and his "halffeminine . . . sensitiveness" causes a repulsion toward his father's worldliness, so that "this one strong natural tie . . . was like an aching limb to him." These also make his need greater, and his personal desire is as great as his good intentions.

Analysis

Philip is cleverly handled by the author. He is not an attractive character, but Maggie's relationship with him is made acceptable, and it is necessary to admit his superior understanding. "Resignation is the willing endurance of a pain that is not allayed," he says. This is exactly what the author has said with reference to Thomas à Kempis. Philip recognizes that Maggie's renunciation is self-delusive. He tries to do the right thing for her: his "sense of the situation was too complete for him not to be visited with glancing fears lest he had been intervening too presumptuously in the action of Maggie's conscience . . . ." The author provides a direct comment to excuse his temptation of Maggie, saying that he is more strongly tempted because of his deformity. But this is part of the reason for the uneasiness he arouses; his deformity, his "half-feminine . . . sensitiveness," counter-balance his good intentions and make his clear understanding seem less important.

Maggie accepts Philip partly as a source of personal gratification: "here was an opportunity indicated for making her mind more worthy of its highest service . . . ." However, they are clearly two people of the same mold.

Both feel, "I never felt that I had enough music — I wanted more instruments playing together — I wanted voices to be fuller and deeper." Both of them hate to "always be doing things of no consequence, and never know anything greater." Few of the other characters are like this.

The relationship between Maggie and Philip which begins here is an early model for that between her and Stephen. She dislikes the need for secrecy, the misery which could arise from discovery. She intends to send him away. But she fails, for the same reason she fails with Stephen — she allows the possibility of accidental contact. This does not offend her conscience. "Then, after hours of clear reasoning and firm conviction, we snatch at any sophistry that will nullify our long struggles, and bring us the defeat that we love better than victory."

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