Philip Wakem: Character Analysis in The Mill on The Floss

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      Philip Wakem is the son of the lawyer Wakem whom Mr. Tulliver regards as his enemy, and, as a result, Tom is also prejudiced against him. Whatever might have been the sins of his father, Philip, as presented in the novel, appears to be a noble, selfless person, who in no way deserves the prejudiced treatment meted out to him by Tom.

      We first meet Philip at King’s Lorton where he is a fellow pupil of Tom. He sutlers from a serious physical deformity. He is a hunchback not from birth certainly, but as a result of some accident. This physical deformity makes him incapable of taking part in such outdoor games and sports as are the delight of the boys of his age, and in which Tom is by far his superior. But he is very clever in Geometry, Latin grammar, drawing, painting and music. He has read a lot of Greek literature and mythology and delights both Maggie and Tom with the tales of adventure of a number of Greek heroes. Despite the fact that Tom is prejudiced against him, and takes no pains to hide his dislike, he helps Tom to prepare his lessons, and is always friendly towards him.

       Philip is conscious of his deformity and suffers from a feeling of loneliness and inferiority. His deformity makes him completely unmanly, and he is ever conscious of this fact. He is unlike other boys, cannot play and fight like them, and feels that his lot in life is different. He must live alone without anyone to love him or sympathize with him, When he grows up into a young man, he is at a loss to understand what to do in life and what career to take up. He drifts about aimlessly. He tells Maggie, “I think of too many things—sow all sorts of seeds, and get no great harvest from any of them. I’m cursed with susceptibility in every direction and effective faculty in none. I care for painting and music; I care for classic literature and medieval literature and modern literature; I flutter all ways and fly in none.” He is a suffering soul, and the suffering arises from his feeling of inferiority, from a sense that he is a misfit for life, that he cannot hold his own in the struggle of life.

      His love of Maggie is true, passionate and self-sacrificing. Maggie pities him for his deformity, befriends him, and is always kind and sympathetic to him. Later, when she grows up into a charming young woman, he falls passionately in love with her. They meet frequently in the Red deeps, and he lends her books to read. Though he meets her secretly in this way, his intentions toward her are quite honorable. He boldly tells Tom that he loves her, has honorable intentions toward her, and wants to marry her. Later, after the unfortunate episode with Stephen Guest, he writes a long letter to her telling her of his intense love of her. The letter shows that he understands her true nature, and is convinced of her innocence. In this respect, he is superior to Tom, much more intelligent, sympathetic and forgiving. After her death he remains true to her memory. He visits the Red Deeps frequently, and also the grave in which the brother and sister are buried. His love of her is lasting and deep.

      Critics have called Philip the villain of the piece, and the evil genius of Maggie. However, we cannot agree with such estimates. His father might have been a rascal, but certainly, no villainy can be laid at the doors of Philip. On the contrary, he has many an act of generosity to his credit. It is he who persuades his father to sell Dorlcote Mill to Guest & Co., so that Tom may regain the home of his father. He persuades his father to permit him to marry Maggie. The course of events would have been entirely different, had Tom not been so rigid and prejudiced. If at all anyone is Maggie’s evil genius it is Stephen Guest, for it is he who leads her into the, ‘great temptation,’ with all its catastrophic consequences. He and not Philip, is responsible for tragedy and ruin in the life of Maggie.

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