The Mill on the Floss By George Eliot Summary and Analysis Book 5: Wheat and Tares: Chapter 5 - The Cloven Tree

Summary

Maggie has always feared meeting Tom or her father while walking with Philip, but it has never occurred to her to worry about aunt Pullet.

Nevertheless, it is aunt Pullet who gives her away by remarking one day that she frequently sees Philip Wakem at the Red Deeps. She means only that she has twice seen Philip there, but Maggie blushes and Tom notices it. The next afternoon while Tom is talking to Bob Jakin on the wharf, Bob points out Philip on the far bank.

Tom hurries home and meets Maggie coming out the gate. When she asks why he is home, Tom says he has come to meet Philip with her. She says she will not go, but Tom insists that she will. He threatens to tell their father unless she tell "everything that has passed" between her and Philip. She says she will tell it for her father's sake. Tom is scornful at that, but he forces out of her the fact that she and Philip have declared their love. Tom tells her she must either swear on the Bible not to meet Philip again or he will tell their father everything. He asks why he should work to pay their father's debts if she is to "bring madness and vexation on him" just when he "might hold up his head once more." Maggie feels sudden joy at this hint that the debts are to be paid; she begins to blame herself and tells Tom she was lonely and sorry for Philip and that she thinks "enmity and hatred are wicked." She says she must see Philip once more, and Tom says he will go with her after she swears her oath.

Maggie hopes Philip will not be there but he is. Tom accuses him of taking advantage of "a young girl's foolishness." Philip retorts that he honors her more than Tom does and says Tom is incapable of understanding what he feels. Tom replies that he would be sorry to understand, but only wishes to be understood that he will thrash Philip if he comes near Maggie again. Philip says that if Maggie wishes to give him up, he will abide by that. Maggie says that she must for her father's sake. Tom snatches Maggie away.

When they have parted, Maggie tells Tom she detests his "insulting unmanly allusions" to Philip's deformity; she says his mind is not large enough to see anything better than his own conduct. She refuses to defend herself but says that if Tom were ever at fault, she would be sorry for him, whereas he has no pity. She says she would not give up Philip in obedience to him but only for her father.

Tom returns to St. Ogg's, and Maggie goes to her room and cries. She sees now that she is not "above worldly temptations," and she is pained for the insults Philip had to bear. Yet, she feels "a certain dim background of relief" which she thinks is due to "deliverance from concealment."

Analysis

Philip appears in his best light in this chapter. By assigning to Tom a feeling of repugnance at Philip's deformity, the author tends to kill that feeling in the reader. The interview between the two reflects better on Philip than on Tom. He obviously cares more about Maggie than Tom does. Nonetheless, Tom's accusations are not without effect: "You know well enough what sort of justice and cherishing you were preparing for her." This has effect because of the ambivalence with which Philip has been treated all along.

Tom's early severity with Maggie is becoming more and more strong. He is not willing to sacrifice "justice" with her even for his father's peace of mind. He forces her to "renounce all private speech and intercourse with Philip Wakem from this time forth. Else you will bring shame on us all, and grief on my father." Yet he himself is willing to inform his father if Maggie will not do as he wishes.

By contrast, Maggie thinks only of her father now. "Tom threatens to tell my father — and he couldn't bear it," she tells Philip. She cares for people, while Tom cares for abstract principles. One of Tom's statements expresses this central characteristic of his: "I should be very sorry to understand your feelings," he tells Philip.

The final paragraph of the chapter reinforces the uneasiness about the relationship of Maggie and Philip. It is ambivalent because it is in Maggie's point of view, and it carries the implication that she really cared for Philip only because she should.

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