There are several ways in which George Eliot's decision to give Maggie a tragic ending in The Mill on the Floss can be substantiated. The examination of Maggie's character in relation to her family and the society of St Oggs, a bustling commercial town is a major factor to acknowledge. Consideration should also be given to the suggestion that the creation of Maggie's character and the hopeless inevitability of her ultimate demise, was an attempt by Eliot to highlight the social realities that existed for women in the 19th century and possibly a reflection of her own situation. Also aesthetic features such as realism and tragedy lead to the realisation that Eliot could present no other outcome that would provide satisfactory closure at the time.
The confrontation between Maggie's character and her circumstances is paramount when offering a possible explanation for George Eliot's decision for Maggie's tragic conclusion. Maggie is growing up in a rapidly changing world, which detrimentally effects her own family's prosperity. Her unique qualities and lack of conformity make it difficult for her to fit into and move forward in what is essentially a patriarchal society. The reader is introduced to Maggie aged 9 and the description of her physical appearance suggests that she is somewhat of an anomaly as regards the expectations of her mother and Aunts. Her `brown skin', dark eyes and straight back hair that `wont curl' contrast unfavorably with the appearance of her cousin Lucy Deane, the blond, pale skinned stereotypical representation of 19th century femininity. The difference between them is described as,' the contrast between a rough dark overgrown puppy and a white kitten' . However it is not just Maggie's appearance that is untypical, but her entire personality.
The omniscient narration within the novel lends itself to allowing the reader a deep insight into Maggie's psyche. She is spontaneous and natural, her impulsive nature is illustrated when she cuts her hair following a casual remark by her father that she should have it cut short. She immediately regrets it when her brother Tom and other members of her family ridicule her. During her childhood Maggie's numerous frustrations are vented by hammering nails into a fetish doll in the attic. Maggie is imaginative, well read and very intelligent, however she is denied the education afforded to her brother Tom who is not nearly as clever as she is. Mr Stelling her brother's tutor recognises her potential but scorns the serious education of women:
`They can pick up a little of everything, I dare say,' said Mr Stelling. They've a great deal of superficial cleverness, but they couldn't go far into anything. They're quick and shallow'
The constraints placed upon Maggie by this patriarchal view and the urges to conform by her family make her thirst for knowledge even more extreme. When Mr Tulliver goes bankrupt and she is forced to give up her schooling, her nature becomes more...