The narrator, unnamed, narrates both as an individual remembering Dorlcote Mill as it was in Maggie’s lifetime, and as an omniscient narrator who clearly knows more than any individual could of the thoughts and motivations of the characters. The latter style is predominant, and his or her use of the first person is rare. He or she has a sense of humor which is very satiric. The narrator is reflecting on the lives of the Tullivers from thirty years after Tom and Maggie died.
Maggie is the very intelligent, very conflicted protagonist of The Mill on the Floss. When the novel begins, she is young, clever, imaginative, adoring of her brother, and always getting into trouble. As she grows up, she regularly feels conflicted between acting how her extended family and community would want her to, and following her own desires. The strong pull of both means she is often indecisive, and though she tries to find peace in renouncing all desire - for education, music, love, literature - in the end this only makes her feelings stronger. Even when she chooses based on her desire, though, as when she starts to elope with Stephen, she ultimately feels the pull of her family and community too strongly, and can’t bear to follow through on gaining happiness at their expense.
Tom is Maggie’s older brother by four years. He is athletic, prideful, obsessed with justice, and usually rather unforgiving. He has very little book-smarts but he is practical, determined, and willing to sacrifice everything to regain his family’s honor. His success comes at the expense of real human companionship and his insistence on justice and distrust of Maggie drives a wedge between them until just moments before they both die.
Mr. Tulliver is Maggie and Tom’s father. At the beginning of the novel he is the proprietor of Dorlcote Mill, which has been in his family for generations. He is hot-tempered, stubborn, and litigious, although also intelligent, though uneducated, and very generous and loving towards Maggie and his sister, Mrs. Moss. He is proud of Maggie’s intelligence, although he isn’t sure what use it will be to a girl. He is also prideful, especially when he comes in conflict with his wife’s very opinionated sisters, and this along with his tendency to “go to the law” leads to him losing all of his assets, including his mill and farm. He believes that all of his troubles are caused by lawyers, particularly Mr. Wakem, and paying back all of his debts and punishing Mr. Wakem become his two obsessions after he loses everything until the moment he dies.
Mrs. Bessy Tulliver
Mrs. Tulliver is Maggie and Tom’s mother. She is a blond, comely woman, who is very simple, and though she loves her children, she greatly favors Tom and wishes Maggie were blonder and simpler herself. She is very proud to be a Dodson and is particularly devastated by the loss of her household goods and furniture when Mr. Tulliver goes bankrupt. She shows herself to have more depth than originally expected towards the end of the novel, when she leaves Tom and the mill to live with Maggie in her shame.
Philip is the son of Mr. Wakem. Due to an accident in infancy, he is crippled and though he is very intelligent and talented, he feels bitterness over physical inferiority. He is a student with Tom at Mr. Stelling’s, and though he never comes to be good friends with Tom, he is immediately drawn to Maggie and ends up loving her for his whole life. Though he is clever, very well educated, and a talented artist, he believes that his breadth of interests and talents mean that he is not particularly talented at any one thing.
Stephen is Mr. Guest of Guest & Co.’s only son. When he appears in the novel he is 25, handsome, rich, clever, and conceited. He plans to be a politician. He is very good friends with Philip and tacitly, although not explicitly, engaged to Lucy, who he thinks will be a charming wife. When he meets Maggie, however, he is overcome and quickly falls in love with her. He does not appear in the novel until after Mr. Tulliver’s death.
Lucy is Maggie’s cousin. In childhood, she is the epitome of everything Maggie is not - pleasant, quiet, passive, doll-like and never troublesome. As an adult, she is pretty, kind, and generous, although she has never had any true difficulty to test her spirit except for her mother’s death and, eventually, Maggie and Stephen running away together.
Mrs. Jane Glegg
Mrs. Tulliver’s oldest sister, Mrs. Glegg is Tom and Maggie’s least favorite relative when they are children. Although she and her husband are well-to-do, she takes a great deal of pride in frugality. Like all the Dodsons, and probably more so than anyone else, she believes firmly in pride of family. Though she is not very generous with the Tullivers when Mr. Tulliver loses everything, going so far to say that it is a judgment from God, she is later one of Maggie’s strongest defenders after her scandal with Stephen.
Bob is a childhood friend of Tom Tulliver’s from a poorer family, until Tom thinks Bob tried to cheat him and can’t forgive him for it. Later, after Mr. Tulliver loses everything, Bob comes to offer the Tullivers the award he earned for putting out a fire. Though they don’t accept, they greatly appreciate this offer, and he becomes a friend of the family again, eventually housing both Tom and Maggie at different times. He is a successful peddler and leads Tom to his first speculation opportunity, which eventually allows him to repay all his father’s debts. He is kind and generous, and particularly taken with Maggie - he names his daughter after her.
Mr. Deane, Mrs. Deane’s husband, is a successful businessman with Guest & Co. who is thought of very highly in St. Ogg’s. He gets Tom his first job, and ends up being a mentor towards him as he rises in the world of business. Like the other uncles, he made his fortune through hard work over a long period of time and was not educated.
Mr. Glegg is Mrs. Glegg’s husband. He is a retired wool dealer, and doesn’t take anything very seriously now that he is done working. He is an avid gardener in his retirement. He married Mrs. Glegg because he made his fortune by slowly saving money, and he thus liked her thriftiness and thought they would be compatible. Though he is cheap, it is in a kind-hearted and evenhanded way - he would go out of his way to save a few dollars for anyone, not just himself.
Mrs. Sophy Pullet
Mrs. Pullet is Mrs. Tulliver’s favorite sister. She is very prone to crying and seems to be a hypochondriac, going frequently to the doctor and obsessed with everybody’s physical ailments.
Mrs. Susan Deane
Mrs. Deane is Mrs. Tulliver’s sister and Lucy’s mother. Mrs. Glegg resents her for being too showy with money, for Mr. Deane becomes more and more successful throughout the novel, and Mrs. Deane is not as subtle with her finery as Mrs. Glegg believes a Dodson should be. Mrs. Deane dies while Maggie is away teaching after Mr. Tulliver’s death.
Mrs. Gritty Moss
Mrs. Moss is Mr. Tulliver’s sister. She married a man with no capital and had eight children, and so ends up being rather a burden on Mr. Tulliver. She is patient and loving, and Maggie’s only aunt who treats her kindly in her youth.
Rev. Walter Stelling
Mr. Stelling is an Oxford graduate and a clergyman whose desire for the finer things means his expenditures outweigh his income, so he begins to take on students to supplement this. He is well-educated, self-confident, and ambitious, though he doesn’t have the flexibility of approach that would make him a good teacher for Tom. He gives the impression of shrewdness to the uneducated Mr. Tulliver and his parishioners, but other clergymen believe him to be dull.
Dr. Kenn is the clergyman of St. Ogg’s. Although he seems cold, he is well-respected by those who realize he is deeply generous. He gives most of his income to charity and takes good care of his parishioners, including Maggie even after her scandal, which happens around the same time that his wife dies.
Mr. Wakem is the lawyer who represents Mr. Pivart in Mr. Tulliver’s case against him, who embodies all the worst aspects of the legal profession in Mr. Tulliver’s mind. In reality, he is shrewd, somewhat vindictive, and selfish, but he is a very good father to Philip.
Mr. Pullet is Mrs. Pullet’s husband, a gentleman farmer with “a great natural faculty for ignorance.” He is very unassuming.
Mr. Moss is Mr. Tulliver’s brother-in-law. He is a poor farmer with a knack for losing money, and so is greatly indebted to Mr. Tulliver, who opposed his sister’s marriage to him.
Luke is the head miller at Dorlcote Mill. He is very kind to Maggie and Tom, and generous and loyal to the entire Tulliver family.
Mr. Riley is an auctioneer and appraiser, and a good friend of Mr. Tulliver. He is highly educated and good-natured, and passionately recommends Mr. Stelling to Mr. Tulliver as a teacher for Tom, although he really doesn’t know much about him. When he dies fairly early in the novel, he leaves a lot of debt, which Mr. Tulliver inherits from him.
Kezia is the Tulliver’s housemaid. She is loyal, good-hearted, and bad-tempered, and stays with the family even after they can’t afford to pay her.
Mrs. Stelling is Mr. Stelling’s young wife. She is haughty and expects Tom to help her take care of her daughter, so Tom dislikes her, even though he quite likes the baby.
Mr. Poulter is the schoolmaster of King’s Lorton who is employed at Mr. Stelling’s to drill Tom on his bearing. He fought against Napoleon’s army, and has many stories - one doubts their veracity - about his prowess in doing so.
Mrs. Prissy Jakin
Prissy is Bob’s wife, a tiny woman who is very kind to Maggie.
Lizzy is Maggie’s younger cousin who Mrs. Moss believes will be clever like Maggie.
Mrs. Moggs is Luke’s wife.
Mr. Turnbull is the Tullivers’ doctor.
The Mill on the Floss Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Mill on the Floss is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
As Maggie grows up, she regularly feels conflicted between acting how her extended family and community would want her to, and following her own desires. The strong pull of both means she is often indecisive, and though she tries to find peace in...