The Mill on the Floss By George Eliot Summary and Analysis Book 6: The Great Temptation: Chapter 14 - Waking

Summary

Maggie awakes from a dream that she has been on the water with Stephen and has seen the boat of St. Ogg with the Virgin seated in it. The Virgin becomes Lucy and the boatman Philip and then Tom, who rows past without looking. She calls to him, and they begin to sink. She dreams she wakes as a child, then wakes to reality. She feels that she has committed an "irrevocable wrong," and that life with Stephen "could have no sacredness." She sees Stephen asleep on the deck close to her, and she feels that the worst bitterness is the pain she must give to him. To delay that as long as possible, she says nothing of parting until they come to Mudport.

When Maggie says she must return, Stephen vows to die first. They go into an inn and Stephen orders a carriage, but Maggie insists that they must part. Stephen tries to tell her that it is too late, that whatever damage will be done is done already, and that "constancy without love" is useless. But Maggie argues that the past must bind them, and that she could not live at peace with herself if she were to commit a willful sin. Stephen cries that her love is nothing, for he could commit crimes for her, while she is robbing him of his "life's happiness." She rejects his argument that their position has changed since the previous day, for the fact that she has made others suffer would embitter their love. Stephen says she does not know what will be said when she returns, but Maggie replies that Lucy and Philip will believe her. Stephen lets her go at last, angry for the moment.

Maggie gets into a coach, but it takes her farther from home. She spends the night at York, half-sick with anguish, intending to start home the next day.

Analysis

Maggie's dream represents her dearest wish — that Tom will not be really angry. It foreshadows their ultimate reconciliation at the time of their drowning.

The problem Maggie confronts herself with is a conflict of duty and desire. "She had rent the ties that had given meaning to duty, and had made herself an outlawed soul, with no guide but the wayward choice of her own passion." The problem is a real one, and there are good arguments on either side. Stephen is right to ask, "Would they have thanked us for anything so hollow as constancy without love?" We have already seen that Philip would not. Maggie is no doubt right to answer that "faithfulness and constancy mean . . . renouncing whatever is opposed to the reliance others have in us — whatever would cause misery to those whom the course of our lives has made dependent on us." But it seems clear that she greatly overestimates her own power to avoid hurting others. Hers is a sentimental yearning for the right. She acts without considering what she can really do; she acts impulsively, as always. Yet, Maggie is right that she could never be happy if she gave up her best impulses. Maggie does not fully realize, as Stephen does, how much their position is altered. In trying to regain what she had before, Maggie is fighting an impossible battle. Nevertheless, her decision is the inevitable one.

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