Bob Jakin: Character Analysis in The Mill on The Floss

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      Bob Jakin has been assigned only a minor role, but he is one of the noblest characters in the novel The Mill on The Floss. He is Tom’s boyhood friend, and like Tom, he is also very good at outdoor games and sports. About him the novelist tells us, “Bob knew, directly he saw a bird’s egg, whether it was a swallow’s oratomitt’s, or a yellow hammer’s; he could find out all the wasps nests, and could set all sorts of traps; he could climb the trees like a squirrel, and had quite a magical power of detecting hedgehogs and statoes; and he had courage to do things that were rather naughty, such as making gaps in the hedgerows, throwing stones after the sheep, and killing a cat.”

      Bob is a pedlar by profession and he moves from house to house, and village to village, selling his wares. He is not very honest and straightforward in his dealings. He does not mind a little bit of cheating. Even as a boy he did not believe in fair play. Once he and Tom played at, ‘heads and tails’. A half-penny was thrown up by Bob, and Tom said ‘tails’. It was tails, and fruit play demanded that the half-penny should be given to Tom, but Bob snatched it hastily, and put it into his pocket, saying it was ‘heads’. At this dishonesty, Tom was furious and gave him a sound thrashing to teach him a lesson. Later in life also when he becomes a peddler, he does not hesitate to cheat Mrs. Glegg. He sells her some cheap stuff at a very high price.

      However, Bob is not a bad man at heart. He is noble, generous and sympathetic. He grows into a shrewd man of the world and makes, good profit in business. When Mr. Tulliver is ruined and Tom is in trouble, he comes to their help. He others them the nine golden guineas, which is all the money he has at the time, so that Tom may tide over his difficulties. Tom does not accept the money, but he appreciates this act of friendship and is grateful to mm. Later, it is Bob who enables Tom to earn large profits by investing some money in foreign merchandise which is carried in the ship of a friend of his. In this way, Tom is able to pay off all the debt of his father and get back the Dorlcote Mill.

      Indeed, Bob plays a crucial role in the life story of Tom and Maggie. He gives a part of his house, to Tom and he lives in it after the death of Mr. Tulliver. Later, when Maggie is in disgrace owing to her unfortunate elopement with Stephen Guest and Tom shuts his doors upon her, it is Bob who comes to her rescue. He provides her shelter under his roof and both he and his wife take care of her, and do their best to mitigate her suffering. Without Bob, Maggie would have been in serious trouble, forlorn, helpless, disgraced and without any friend or well-wisher in the wide world. Besides helping Tom and Maggie in the various ways mentioned above, he is also a source of humor in the novel. We miss Mrs. Poyser and her circle in the novel but as Leslie Stephen points out, “Bob Jakin brings some of the old wit and quaint humor” into the novel. He has a glib tongue, talks at length, maintains a ceaseless flow of words, and his talk is highly amusing and entertaining. The way in which he persuades his customers to buy his wares, or the way in which he cheats them, is highly amusing. He is a man with a large thumb which he uses to cheat his women customers, particularly those who baggie too much. Mrs. Glegg is one such customer, and see, in what a clever way, he gets the better, of her. Similarly, the reason which he gives for not marrying is very amusing. He does not marry because he is afraid his dog Mumps may not like his wife, and when he marries, he marries a woman too small and insignificant for Mumps to notice.

      Elizabeth Drew is all praises for Bob Jakin and writes, But the most important minor character ill the book is Bob Jakin, the pedlar, who provides a contrast with all the rest of the cast. On the social scale. Bob is at the bottom, but in maturity of outlook and qualities of head and heart he is the superior of everyone else — even of Maggie, since he has so much of the shrewd common sense which poor Maggie never acquires. In comparison with the Dodsons, it is Bob’s generosity which is emphasized. Against their refusal to do more than the absolute minimum to help their sister and her family, though they can well afford more, Bob offers Tom his entire capital of ten pounds, with which he had planned to equip his pedlar’s pack. He is the only person who senses Maggie’s loneliness and hunger for reading, and so brings her the package of secondhand books. But the main comparison and contrast is with Tom himself. Bob’s business code is not strictly ethical: he uses his big thumb to falsify the yardage he sells to his skinflint customers. His explanation to Maggie has a certain justice; “never cheat anybody as don’t want to cheat me Miss”. Instead of having a rigid business rectitude arid a cold heart, like Tom, Bob takes great delight in his capacity to get round the women with his tongue-witness the wonderful comedy of his duel with aunt Glegg—but he has the warmest heart in the world for all those in trouble. He is like Ogg, the son of Beor, who ferries the poor woman across the river, ‘because it is enough that thy heart needs it’. When Tom refuses to have Maggie under his roof; Bob takes her in without question. And as a token of his perfect faith in her, he puts his baby in her arms, saying, ‘It’ud be better for your taking a bit of notice on it’. “Bob is the only complete human being in the book. He is as much at home in the country as in the town, in the water as on land. He has no illusions about the quality of the society around him, but he can accommodate himself to it without loss of his own integrity. He is the only truly fulfilled and creative person we meet, and George Eliot has emphasized this subtly by leaving him, in the end, at home with mother, wife and child. He is the incarnation of the spirits that walk the streets, from the old traditions of the past.”

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