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)