While reading this novel, the reader can encounter some features of it which are typical of Victorian novels: the plot is quite realistic, the characters belong to the middle class, and some of them can be described as typical Victorian characters (for instance, Tom's and Maggie's aunts). On the other hand, the fact that the novel was written by a woman is crucial itself, and says a lot. In addition to that, the protagonist is a woman, as well. .
As the reader meets the characters, he gets the impression that they are not as simple as it can be expected, considering the fact that this is a Victorian novel. On the contrary " they are quite complex, and, in some aspects, different from the typical characters of the epoch.
In keeping the Victorian mindset, the novel encompasses many stereotypes of gender roles for its main characters. Eliot received criticism during her lifetime for not following the expected gender roles of the period. She may have written The Mill on the Floss as a subtle outcry against society's expectations (or lack thereof) of men, and especially of women. The gender roles of the Victorian period are clearly seen in this novel and mostly followed; however, sometimes the roles are reversed or contrary to what the reader would expect. The characters of Tom, Phillip, Lucy and Maggie all demonstrate how Eliot defines gender roles throughout the novel.
During his childhood, Tom Tulliver clearly enjoys traditionally manly activities such as fishing, riding big horses and thinking about owning a gun one day. He does not seem to worry much about his future and quite enjoys the fact that his younger sister Maggie looks up to him as a friend and "protector". The reader has every reason to suspect that Tom will enjoy a life laden with adventures and few responsibilities until it is his time to take over the family business and become a man. Mr. Tulliver, Tom's father, has different plans for his boy, though.