George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss, tells the story of Maggie Tulliver's life as she leads with her passionate emotions through a time where a young girl had no true place in society. The novel encompasses many gender stereotypes that were alive during the nineteenth century. There are instances, however, where these roles are reversed or contrary to what one would come to expect. A clear example, is in Maggie Tuliver's character. Her features and behaviors foil that of a true Victorian woman while making her intelligence stand out to the reader. Eliot plays with the idea of physiognomy to highlight the faults in society's expectations, predominantly the expectations of women. Each of her ideals can be seen in the main characters, the most prominent case follows the young protagonist, Maggie. .
Eliot underline's Maggie's differences in the openings of the novel, by describing her features as contrastingly different from her family. Maggies's mothers side of the family is strikingly different in their appearances compared to her father's side. The Dodsons are fair in their look with ivory skin, light eyes, and fair hair, the picture-perfect Victorian look of their time. Maggie, taking after her father, is said to be unnaturally looking with her dark skin, hair, and eyes. Her looks cause a rift between the Dodsons' as she is not seen to fit into society. The first encounter with Mrs. Tulliver confirms this idea. She complains about Maggie's "brown skin as it makes her look like a mulatter"(13). and her hair that will not hold a curl. Maggie sits, "tossing her head to keep the dark, heavy locks out of her gleaming black eyes"(13), while her mother complains to her father stating that Maggie is "a straight black-eyed wench"(13). Throughout the novel, words like "black" and "dark" are common in Maggies descriptions. These words are uncommon when used to describe characters like, Lucy, and even Maggie's brother Tom.