The Mill on the Floss

The Mill on the Floss Summary and Analysis of Book V - Wheat and Tares

Chapter I - In the Red Deeps

Mr. Wakem comes on one of his usual visits, but this time he brings Philip with him. Maggie (now 17), seeing them approach, hurries upstairs so that she won’t have to meet Philip in front of their fathers. Once she thinks they have left, she goes outside to walk and ends up coming upon Philip, who was waiting for her.

Maggie is pleased to see Philip, but tells him that though she wishes it wasn’t necessary, she will have to renounce his friendship because of their families. Philip protests that it wouldn’t harm anyone for them to see each other every once in a while in secret, and that it would do him great good. Maggie tells him she must think about it so that she doesn’t make the wrong decision.

Chapter II - Aunt Glegg Learns the Breadth of Bob's Thumb

Tom’s determination at his job does not go unnoticed by Mr. Deane, who is very pleased with his progress. By his second year he has already gotten a raise, but he still puts all but what he needs for necessities into paying back his father’s debts. Against his personality, he sacrifices all social activities and pleasure, for he fears that would lead to extra expenses. The aunts and uncles are all impressed with the growing evidence that Tom is more like a Dodson than a Tulliver.

Bob Jakin tells Tom he could speculate in some trading with his savings, so Tom asks Mr. Tulliver if they might try to multiply some of what they have put away - only 116 pounds after two years of saving all they could. Mr. Tulliver is reluctant, having been unlucky speculating in the past, and Tom, seeing how unhappy the idea makes him, decides to ask Mr. Glegg to invest in the prospect and let Tom keep some of the gains until he has enough to invest himself.

Tom brings Bob to explain the idea, and Mr. Glegg is pleased with both Bob and the plan. Mrs. Glegg, offended at being left out, says she’d like to participate too, provided she can trust she won’t lose her money. Bob manages to talk her into buying some of his wares as well. Together the Gleggs lend Tom fifty pounds, which he successfully invests, and by the time of Maggie’s first meeting with Philip, he has already amassed 150 pounds for himself.

Chapter III - The Wavering Balance

Maggie meets Philip again with the intention of telling him that she has decided they must give each other up as friends. She does so, and he asks only for one last conversation. Tom offers to be Maggie's tutor, to supply her with the books and knowledge she craved before renunciation. Maggie can't say yes. Before they part, he asks if he is forbidden to ever walk in that area where they might meet by chance, without it being secretive. She does not forbid it.

Chapter IV - Another Love-Scene

Almost a year later, Maggie goes to meet Philip in the woods, and it is clear they have been meeting regularly. Philip declares his love for Maggie, who says she can’t imagine loving anyone else more than she loves him. However, she also insists that they can’t have a future because she would never risk hurting her father, and his father would also disapprove.

Chapter V - The Cloven Tree

Mrs. Pullet stops by Dorlcote Mill to visit the Tullivers. She casually mentions having seen Philip about in the woods, and Maggie blushes aggressively in response, which Tom notices. Combined with the knowledge that Maggie had been often out in the woods, he becomes convinced that she is having secret meetings with Philip.

The next day he confronts Maggie about it, and she doesn’t deny it. He makes her tell him all the details, and then says she must vow to never have any contact with him again, or Tom will tell their father everything, breaking his heart and very likely causing him to lose his mind again. Maggie agrees to vow only that she will never contact Philip without Tom’s knowledge.

Tom takes Maggie to the woods where he confronts Philip, accusing him of taking advantage of Maggie’s ignorance and loneliness caused by their circumstances. Tom also says many cruel things about his deformity. Philip cares only for what Maggie has to say, and she explains that she has agreed to only contact him with Tom’s knowledge in order to protect her father, which he accepts.

Philip leaves, and Maggie berates Tom for being so cruel to him, especially about his deformity, and tells him that he is always reproaching others because he has not enough imagination to realize that there are better aims and ways of living than his own. They fight and separate, and Maggie is distressed primarily by how cruel Tom’s insults to Philip were, but she is also a slight bit relieved that she will be forced to be apart from him.

Chapter VI - The Hard-Won Triumph

Three weeks later, Tom comes home to the mill in a particularly good mood and tells his father that he has 320 pounds in the bank, which, combined with what Mr. Tulliver has put aside, is enough to pay back all of their debts. The family is thrilled, and Mr. Tulliver tells Tom he hopes he will buy back the mill one day, when he has made his fortune. Maggie puts aside her anger with Tom and celebrates.

Chapter VII - A Day of Reckoning

The next day, Tom and Mr. Tulliver have a lunch with all of the creditors to repay them. Everyone is very impressed with Tom. On his way home, Mr. Tulliver sits high in his saddle for the first time in years. He comes upon Mr. Wakem just leaving the mill and tells him that he will no longer work for him. Mr. Wakem tries to ride by him, but Mr. Tulliver spurs his horse towards him, and Mr. Wakem’s horse throws him off. Before Mr. Wakem can get up, Mr. Tulliver jumps off his horse and attacks him.

Maggie and Mrs. Tulliver run over from the house, and Maggie holds Mr. Tulliver back. Luke helps Mr. Wakem home, and Maggie and Mrs. Tulliver help Mr. Tulliver, who suddenly feels very faint, back to the house. Early the next morning, Mr. Tulliver calls for his children. He tells them he is dying, and asks Tom to try to get the mill back, and to take care of his mother and be good to Maggie, and to never forget the harm that Mr. Wakem did to them - despite Maggie's insistence that he forgive Mr. Wakem.


Maggie’s suppressed desire is a major feature in the fifth book. She has borne her renunciation easily by taking pleasure in it itself, but once Philip makes a new appearance in her life and reminds her of all she has given up - art, music, literature, good conversation - the true struggle begins. It is intense enough that the narrator says this interior struggle is actually outwardly visible: ”one has a sense of uneasiness in looking at her - a sense of opposing elements, of which a fierce collision is imminent” (243). Though she is slow to admit how strong her desires still are, we hear them voiced through Philip, who sees the inevitable failure of her choice of pure renunciation when she is one who desires so fiercely.

Tom stands in stark contrast. He, too, renounces much; though he has “a very strong appetite for pleasure” (252) Tom gives does not indulge in any social interaction in order to focus solely on paying back his father’s debts. The difference, though, lies in the lack of struggle for him, for Tom - unlike Maggie - is “a character at unity with itself”. (252) Tom's actions are motivated by his own moral compass but also the concrete aim of revenge against Wakem while Maggie's renunciation and friendship with Philip are enacted for more abstract notions - happiness of others. Although this is largely a result of their different characters, gender also plays a major role. For “Maggie’s life struggles had lain almost entirely within her own soul” while Tom grapples “with more substantial obstacles...gaining more definite conquests” (251), an option not available to Maggie because of the restricted options available to women. Maggie has nothing concrete to struggle for, and so the battle remains within her, where it can never be won.

Both she and the narrator make it explicit that this is a gendered issue. The narrator tells us that this distinction “has been since the days of Hecuba...inside the gates, the women...watching the world’s combat from afar, filling their long, empty days with memories and fears: outside, the men, in fierce struggle with things divine and human...losing the sense of dread and even of wounds in the hurrying ardour of action.” And when Tom criticizes Maggie’s behavior, she makes it clear that his sacrifice is different than hers: “‘Because you are a man, Tom, and have power, and can do something in the world’” (282). Tom is able to have unity of action and desire because the community provides a clear path for him to follow.

Maggie’s internal struggle in this section is particularly interesting because it makes explicit that it is not so simply a case of selfish desire conflicting with what is best for the community. She is dismayed by her father and her brother’s intense hatred of Philip because of his father’s actions, and she believes that though it would be wrong to hurt her family, their hatred is in itself wrong. This complicates the issue, especially as Maggie feels that her affection would do Philip (and, ultimately, herself) much good, but she is also smart enough to know that “if we only look far enough off for the consequence of our actions, we can always find some point in the combination of results by which those actions can be justified” (268), and she doesn’t want to be guilty of excusing behavior that is in fact wrong.

This serves as a microcosm for the setting of Maggie’s general internal conflict, for while it is not so clear to the narrator and the reader - both reflecting on an earlier time than the characters inhabit - it is clear that the limitations placed on women in Maggie’s day were not right. Thus in struggling to act in a way appreciated by the community, and in feeling the strong pull of tradition against progress, Maggie is smothering her own individuality so that she can fit into what was seen as a woman’s role. Though Maggie believes she is striving to subvert the selfish for the greater good, this comes at the steep price of her own interests and desires.