In The Mill on the Floss, Maggie Tulliver is presented right from the start as a girl who longs to be loved and appreciated. She, however, never gets what she yearns for. Compared with Lucy, the blonde, nice girl, Maggie is always criticised by her relatives for being a dark, messy girl. Tom, her beloved brother, too, never takes her seriously. He does not approve of her sympathy and sensibility and always dominates her life. Therefore, when she meets Stephen, she is attracted to his caring and attentive treatments towards her. However, Maggie decides to reject his love and leave him.
Why does Maggie make such decision? Her sympathy, in my opinion, is the most important motivation. Maggie herself knows very well what it is like to be hurt. She has experienced sufferings and pains since she was a little girl. Everyone in the family except her father does not appreciate her intelligence. Instead, they always reproach her for not being a big, dark, naughty girl. Also, Maggie is tortured by Tom's cruel and cold behaviour towards her. He always says he doesn't love her whenever he is angry with her. Having suffered before, Maggie is able to feel for other people and doesn't want to hurt other people's feelings. She knows that both Philip and Lucy will be devastated if she leaves with Stephen. She can sense their agony so she does not want to hurt them. Here, her memories also play an important part in her decision to leave Stephen. Though Maggie gives in to her temptation and goes on a boat with Stephen, her memories bring her back to her sense again. Maggie is aware of the "ties" that connect her to other people in her life. Memories remind her of Philip's devotion and dependence on her and Lucy's goodness and trust in her. Memories of Philip and Lucy are more important than her own love. Eloping with Stephen is a treachery towards them. Maggie finds that unacceptable. Moreover, I think Maggie also thinks of Tom and her family.