Discuss the recurring theme of sympathy, forgiveness and compassion in The Mill on the Floss.

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‘Oh, Tom, it’s very cruel,’ sobbed Maggie. ‘I’d forgive you, if you forget anything – I wouldn’t mind what you did – I’d forgive you and love you.’ Discuss the recurring theme of sympathy, forgiveness and compassion in The Mill on the Floss.

George Eliot, writing about 1830’s English society in her novel The Mill On The Floss, puts forth, to the reader the themes of forgiveness, compassion, and sympathy using literary techniques, in The Mill on the Floss; she does this through Maggie’s relationship with Philip, the Tulliver men’s nature and society.

Firstly, Eliot presents the themes of sympathy, forgiveness and compassion through Maggie’s relationship with Philip by using narrative methods and language. Throughout the novel the author conveys Maggie’s relationship with Philip as having revolved around sympathy, as seen by her ‘tenderness’ for his ‘deformity,’ because she felt he was more ‘fond’ of her compared to ‘strong’ people. This shows the audience, how Maggie was compassionate and wanted to give love to people who did not receive much attention, which derives from her childhood where she did not receive much kindness, as seen by the phrase, ‘you have always enjoyed punishing me’, when Maggie is being scolded by Tom for being friends with Philip. Her compassion is further reinforced by the fact that she was willing to love Philip even though society looked down on his deformity, which is conveyed by Philip telling his father ‘girls are not apt to get attached under those circumstances [accidental deformity].’ Moreover, Maggie portrays sympathy at a young age when she attempts to subdue Toms feud with the Wakem family by claiming that ‘[Philip] couldn’t choose his family… [so they] ought to be the more sorry for him’, because his dad was a ‘bad man’. This shows the audience how she was willing to look past their family problems and be friends with Philip, something her brother could never do. Similarly, Philip portrays his sympathetic and compassionate side in his relationship with Maggie, for example when Maggie tries to deprive herself from everything that makes her happy, Philip tells her she ‘committing… long suicide’, which is a metaphor to show the audience how Maggie was killing her ‘nature’. Philip implores her to let him help her be happy, as seen by the italisation of the imperative words ‘listen’ and ‘let’; this shows how Philip wanted Maggie to be content with life, instead of ‘numbing’ herself for society. Also, Philips forgiveness is portrayed to the audience when he forgives Maggie for running away with Stephen as seen by the phrase ‘I am unchangeable yours,’ written in Philip’s letter to Maggie. This shows the audience how even though Philip knows there is nothing larger than Maggie’s love for Stephen, he still wants to be with her and to make her happy. The theme of sympathy, forgiveness, and compassion is abundant in Philip and Maggie’s relationship, for they are two characters that are constantly looked down upon by society, which is why they empathize with each other throughout Eliots novel.  

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Furthermore, the author conveys the Tulliver men as lacking the ability to forgive, and having very little compassion and sympathy towards certain people, using action and dialogue. Mr. Tulliver is characterized by Eliot as unforgiving, as seen by the phrase ‘I won’t forgive him… I wish evil may befall him’, when he is making Tom sign the Bible condemning Mr. Wakem. This shows the reader, that though Mr. Tulliver was at fault by going to ‘law’ he still held a grudge, which is further reinforced later in the book where he ‘flogged [Wakem] fiercely’. The audience sees this merciless ...

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