Senior Honors Projects, 2010-current

Date of Award

Spring 2017

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (BA)

Department

Department of English

Advisor(s)

Heidi Pennington, Ph.D.

Annette Federico, Ph.D.

John Butt, Ph.D.

Abstract

This text explores the characters of Maggie and Tom Tulliver from George Eliot’s 1860 novel The Mill on the Floss and the characters of Bathsheba Everdene and Gabriel Oak from Thomas Hardy’s 1874 novel Far from the Madding Crowd. It connects the two novels by way of the relationships between these main characters. In both cases, the female character struggles with the confines of Victorian societal limits for women based on their gender. In The Mill, Maggie constantly struggles against the wishes of her older brother, and while Tom is arguably an antagonistic force in the novel, this article contends that Tom is necessary for Maggie’s development and her resistance to gender expectations. Because of her brother’s inability to recognize the limitations Maggie faces, she is able to unite her love for her traditional family and her desire for progressive independence—but only through tragedy. In Madding Crowd, Bathsheba faces similar challenges because of her expectation to marry according to the custom for her sex. Although Gabriel is typically discussed as either a stoic hero or a hindrance to Bathsheba’s agency, this article discusses him as a nuanced character. He plays a similar role to Bathsheba as Tom does to Maggie, despite the differences between the two main male characters. The conclusion of Madding Crowd has previously been seen as either a stifling of Bathsheba’s independence or a happy ending for the conventional marriage plot, but this article discusses the ending as reconciliation between friends that reveals the patriarchal hero’s recognition of his limitations to protect the “weaker sex” and all those he believes to be in his care, whether it be his flock of sheep or Bathsheba. In this way, it is revealed that Bathsheba does not need Gabriel Oak’s care or his dogged worship—both are insufficient—instead, Bathsheba merely needs companionship.

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