What seems the purpose of the arrangement into books and chapters? The sub-titles? Are there motifs or features of the book which suggest parallels with Greek tragedy? What is the reference in the epigraph?
What is the significance of the title? What difference would it have made had the novel been titled, say, Maggie Tulliver?
Preface: What aspects of the landscape does the narrator mention? (moistness) What do we learn about this region from the narrator’s description? (emphasis on labor, trade) What purpose do you think is served by Eliot’s descriptions of places?
What attention is given to working animals? Is this unusual?
What does the narrator claim is his relationship to the little girl he remembers? (has dreamed of the past) Are there indications that this novel may be autobiographical?
Can you tell the time period in which it was set? How old would Eliot herself have been at the time?
Based on your knowledge of Eliot’s life, can you comment on some possible autobiographical features of the novel?
Is the narrator presented as male or female? (concern with gender of narrator, who has worn a frock coat)
What purpose may be served by the opening descriptions of the Floss and its mill? What seems the tone of the opening chapter?
Are there elements of foreshadowing, here and in other early episodes of the novel?
At what points does the narrator intervene throughout the opening sections? Do you think the presence of such a narrator adds to the tale?
What kind of town is St. Ogg’s, and what seem features of the society it describes? (insular)
What are Mr. Tulliver’s motives in educating Tom? Are these altogether enlightened? On what grounds does Mr. Riley suggest the choice of Mr. Stelling as tutor?
What does the narrator indicate may be the results of Mr. Tulliver’s decision? Can he afford to pay 500 pounds annually to educate his son privately?
Why do Mrs. Tulliver’s family object to his decision? What point may Eliot be making about the way important decisions come to be made?
What is the character of Mrs. Tulliver? What are her chief interests in life? On what grounds does she disapprove of Maggie?
What are the parents’ respective attitudes toward their children? (father sorry that Tom isn’t brighter; education would be wasted on Maggie, mother disapproves of Maggie’s appearance and behavior, fails to criticize or attempt to train Tom)
Does either parent consider preparing Maggie for a possible future apart from marriage?
What are prominent traits of Maggie’s character? How do these cause her difficulty? What happens when she attempts to impart her knowledge to those around her, such as Luke?
Why may Maggie’s need for “love” be greater than Tom’s? In what way does she fail to conform to important gender conventions of her day? (dislikes sewing, finds too much attention to appearance tedious)
How are her reading tastes received?
In what ways does Tom domineer over her sister? What seems to be her response?
What seems to be Eliot’s intention in presenting the character of Luke? Why doesn’t he want to learn about different places? (would forget what he knows if he tried to learn more)
What speech registers do we encounter in the novel? How does each represent a difference in social class?
What attitudes may Eliot be satirizing in her portrayal of the Dodsons? Which strata of society would likely have had these? (prosperous upper-middle class of provinces)
What are their occupations? Their attitudes toward money and possessions? (talk constantly of what they will leave and to whom)
What is the tone of their relationships with one another? (competitive, censorious, self-promoting, comically misguided taste in clothes, such as “false fronts.” i. e., hairpieces) Between the sisters?
What do all seem to share in common? (narrow family chauvinism, great concern with dress as a means of display, respect for prosperity)
To what extent is George Eliot a humorist? a satirist? Who or what are objects of her heaviest satire?
Can you see ways in which she is also a moralist?
What purpose is served by the introduction of Bob Lakin? (contrast in situation, different form of ethics or its absence)
What do we learn about Tom’s character in this book? (rigid, self-righteous, not too perceptive) His treatment of Maggie?
His relationship with others, such as Bob Lakin, who offend him?
Can you identify some incidents or remarks in the text which may be instances of foreshadowing? (esp. images of drowning, Mrs. Tulliver’s fear that her children will drown, signs of tension between Tom and Maggie, indications that Mr. Tulliver’s understanding of his situation is bad; aggressiveness in his character; lack of common purpose between husband and wife)
What is Maggie’s relationship to her cousin Lucy Deane? What causes her to feel jealousy toward her? (everyone else praises her and prefers her) What do you make of the incident in which Maggie pushes Lucy into the mud?
What is indicated by the incident in which Maggie runs off to the gypsies? Is she well treated?
Do you think Eliot’s portrayal of the gypsies is realistic? (offer her their food, steal a thimble)
What concatenation of personal traits and events seems poised to cause trouble at the end of the book?
What do you make of the final allusion to Oedipus? Which aspects of this book will involve characteristics usually ascribed to Greek tragedy? (fall of a dominant male from high to low from pride, reversal and recognition)
Book 2: School Time
What is wrong, in the narrator’s view, with the education provided for Tom? What principles of education do you think Eliot espoused?
Even had Tom been more academically gifted, would the education provided have had its limitations? How does Eliot think the classics should be taught?
What criticisms does Eliot make of Mr. and Mrs. Stelling? (too eager for money, not helpful or kind to the pupils) What good has Mr. Stelling’s Oxford training done for him?
What are some features of Maggie’s visit to the Stellings? What frustrations does she suffer? (Mr. Stelling expresses the view that women can only learn superficially)
How do she and Tom differ in their view of Philip Wakem? How is Philip’s character presented?
How does Philip respond to Maggie? What do you make of the fact that she kisses him?
What causes the tensions between Tom and Philip? (Tom’s father has suggested that he won’t like Wakem’s son; Philip isn’t fond of sports)
What effect does Tom’s educational deficiencies have on his sensibility? (becomes a bit more sympathetic to others)
What consequences flow from Tom’s excited interest in possessing a real sword? What actions precipitate his cutting of his foot? (pretends to attack Maggie) Is Eliot making a point through this incident?
If you have read Tom Brown’s School Days, can you see parallels between Tom Tulliver and Tom Brown?
(both keen on fighting, very self-righteous) How do Thomas Hughes and George Eliot view differently the issue of individual violence as a means of enforcing order?
What event abruptly ends the book? (Mr. Tulliver has lost his lawsuit and become bankrupt)
What final image concludes this section? What literary echo does it contain? (end of Paradise Lost, as Adam and Eve go forth from Eden into the harsh world)
Book 3: Downfall
Chapter 1: What Had Happened at Home
What are some ways in which Mr. Tulliver’s fate, and the novel, exhibit features of classical tragedy? (tragic flaw, reversal and recognition)
What news precipitates Mr. Tulliver’s stroke? (deed to farm has been sold to Wakem)
What do Tulliver’s actions before and after his collapse reveal about his character? What consequences do you predict they may have?
To whom had he lent money, and from whom had he borrowed? How are we expected to judge these actions? (unwise to mortgage his furniture and to lend 250 pounds to Riley without security, kind to help his sister)
How does Tom respond to these revelations? Are his accusations accurate? (believes the lawyer had been plotting against his father; resolves never to speak to Philip again)
Why doesn’t Maggie argue against his statement?
Chapter 2: Mrs. Tulliver’s Teraphim, or Household Gods
How do Maggie, Mrs. Tulliver and Tom respond to Mr. Tulliver’s sickness and financial loss, and what does this reveal about their characters? (Maggie concerned for her father; Mrs. Tulliver feels self-pity and blames her husband; Tom takes mother’s side and blames father, joins him in hoping for revenge)
Chapter 3: The Family Council
How do the aunts and uncles respond to the news of Tulliver’s loss of the mill? (disapproval, feel his action has brought disgrace on them)
Are they willing to help the Tullivers? (unwilling to do more than purchase a few items, very cheap in how they describe their purchases)
How does Tom behave toward his aunts and uncles? (attempts to appeal to their self-interest, asks for a loan) His mother? His sister? (forbids her to interfere)
What is Maggie’s role in all this? (ignored, openly blames relatives for their selfishness)
Chapter 4: A Vanishing Gleam
What contrasting response to their loss is exhibited by their Aunt Moss?
Why hadn’t she appeared earlier? (hadn’t been told of her brother’s stroke and misfortune)
What view does Tom take of whether to require that the Mosses repay their loan? (sides with his father in not requiring it) Is his motive kindness toward his aunt? (desires to maintain his father’s decisions, little concern for what these are)
How does the narrator interpret this action? (honorable)
Do you think his behavior in this case is presented as consistent with his former character?
Who else has lent Mr. Tulliver money? (Luke) Will this be repaid?
What seems to be Eliot’s views about the repayment of debts? Would Victorians in general have agreed?
Chapter 5: Tom Applies His Knife to the Oyster
What traits are revealed in Tom’s interview with his uncle Deane? What opinions does he express of his former education and capacities? (doesn’t care for the kind of education he has received)
What kind of job does he seek? (hopes for a practical job such as held by his uncle)
How does his uncle respond? (lectures him on his ignorance, reflects with pride on his own past, eventually does give him a lowly position in his firm)
What is revealed by his words to his sister on her return home? (he will “take care of” her; she must obey him, 207)
Why doesn’t Maggie dispute this? Is she unable to seek independence?
Why doesn't Maggie dispute Tom's command that she not speak with Philip? Or his commitment to revenge?
Chapter 6: Tending to Refute the Popular Prejudice Against the Present of a Pocket Knife
To what does this chapter title ironically refer? In what way do Bob Jakin’s actions “refute the popular prejudice”? (Tom’s gift had been very important to him, 210)
What seems added to the plot by the reappearance of Bob Jakin? What light does it cast backward on the boys’ earlier fight? What does he offer Tom and Maggie? (9 of the 10 pounds he has earned)
What had Bob previously wanted to do with this money? Why do they not accept his offer?
How does his behavior contrast with that of the Tullivers’ more prosperous relatives? (offers Tom and Maggie 9 of the 10 pounds he has earned)
Chapter 7: How a Hen Takes to Stratagem
What reductive attitudes are embodied in this chapter title?
What reflections inspire Mrs. Tulliver to attempt to intervene in her husband’s affairs? (feels she has been too passive)
On what grounds does Mrs. Tulliver appeal for mercy to Mr. Wakem? (claims she disagrees with her husband’s dislike for him, appeals to her family past)
Why does her plan backfire? (Wakem realizes that Tulliver holds a continuing grudge against him) What words does he find especially offensive? (she refers to her handsome, physically well-favored son)
What would seem to be the narrator’s interpretation of this twist of events? (Mr. Tulliver’s choice of a simple-minded wife has backfired on him; Eliot generally severe on male tastes in women)
What is the narrator’s view of Wakem’s motives in buying the mill and employing Tulliver? (desire to do a seeming favor which will rankle)
What are some features of his private life? (224, has several illegitimate children and desires to provide for one of them through purchasing mill)
What kind of person does the narrator represent him as being? (sly and dishonest in his business dealings, 222)
Chapter 8: Daylight on the Wreck
What are some implications of this chapter title?
What persuades Mr. Tulliver to remain in the mill as Wakem's employee? (loves mill and land; his surroundings have become part of his identity)
Has Mr. Tulliver's illness changed him? What does he say to his wife when he agrees to do what will be best for her? (231)
Why does Tom disagree with his father's decision to remain at the mill, and what does this indicate about their differences? (has internalized his father’s grudges, 231, but is more stubborn and less realistic than even his father)
What separate roles are ascribed to men and women by the narrator? Do you think the narrator accepts this division, or may she be ironic? (harder for men to endure distress)
Chapter 9: An Item Added to the Family Register
To what “item” does this chapter title refer? Why do you think it is described so prosaically?
What do we learn about Tom’s private habits? (wants to eat alone) Does this seem a good sign for his future human relations?
What are Tulliver’s final thoughts during the period before his death?
What is the thematic significance of Tulliver’s demand that Tom inscribe in the family bible a promise to revenge his loss?
With what emotions does Tom obey? (eager to do so)
Why isn’t Maggie asked to make a similar promise? How does she respond to this? (protests)
What is the significance of recording such a promise in the bible? (sacrilegious; reflects seriousness and bindingness of promise)
How would Eliot have critiqued this action? How will his actions and attitudes affect the later fate of his children?
At this point in the plot, what problems have arisen? What outcome do you predict for them?