Dystopia and the frustration of female agency in "The Mill on the Floss"

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In The Mill on the Floss, George Eliot contrasts the paths of individual development and emphasizes the crucial role played by society's expectations and conventions on the lives of individual characters, especially on the basis of gender. By depicting the development of Maggie Tulliver in contrast to male characters, the novel discloses the dystopian effect of a society that not only arbitrarily inhibits individual growth and diminishes potential but also condemns and expels the nonconformist individual. The utopian vision that this bodies forth is of a society, desirable but unattainable, that is ideal and more perfect than the author's community in encouraging the potential of individual growth by providing an open and nurturing environment. The more positive vision emerges from the novel's critique of the dystopian conditions which render Maggie abject, in contrast to an ideal society that facilitates all kinds of differences and possibilities regardless of gender, race, or class hierarchy. In tracing the history of Maggie's abjection from its origins in her childhood through its various stages from transgression, to renunciation, and to death, and thus the most extensive exploration of women's lot in her fiction, Eliot criticizes the kind of society that produces and ultimately destroys the abject like Maggie as a way of suggesting utopian possibilities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)129-159
Number of pages31
JournalFeminist studies in English literature
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2003


  • utopias and dystopias
  • abjection
  • agency
  • subjectivity
  • intersubjectivity
  • female Bildung


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