Book 3, Chapter 8 Summary
Mr. Tulliver comes downstairs for the first time. Mrs. Tulliver has Tom wait before he goes to work so he will be there when Mr. Tulliver first sees how desolate the house looks without furniture. Mr. Tulliver’s doctor is concerned that a rush of information might put Mr. Tulliver back into his less conscious state; he bids the family to let Mr. Tulliver learn of the family’s current situation as slowly as possible.
Things have gotten worse for the Tullivers. Mr. Deane and his company were not able to purchase the land and mill because Mr. Wakem outbid him. Everything now belongs to Wakem. Conveniently for Wakem, he had come to call on the Tullivers while both Mr. Glegg and Mr. Deane were present. Wakem let it be known that he is willing to hire Mr. Tulliver to manage the mill, knowing from Mrs. Tulliver that this would completely demoralize her husband.
Both of Mrs. Tulliver’s sisters, Aunt Glegg and Aunt Deane, look upon Wakem as a generous man who has made an offer Mr. Tulliver should not refuse. Their husbands, Mr. Glegg and Mr. Deane, are a little more sympathetic to Mr. Tulliver’s disproval of Wakem, but they eventually agree with their wives. Wakem is offering Tulliver a chance to keep his family out of the poor house—without any assistance from the aunts and uncles. The uncles erroneously conclude that Wakem must hold no grudge against Tulliver.
Tom feels differently. He knows how painful it would be for his father to work for Wakem, a man whom he clearly despises. Tom and Maggie decide it might be better if they ease their father back to the present moment and all its dreadful details by doing so without their mother’s taking part in the discussion. They know their mother is too emotional and still blames her husband for all their troubles. Tom and Maggie meet their father upstairs.
When Mr. Tulliver begins to speak about the work that must be done, Tom and Maggie realize that their father has forgotten not only the immediate past but also details from three years ago. They slowly correct his mistakes and fill in the information that is missing in his thoughts. Eventually Mr. Tulliver learns that his creditors have declared him bankrupt. Maggie tells him that all their furnishings have been sold.
Upon hearing this, Mr. Tulliver announces that he is ready to go downstairs. His children help him descend into the parlor. When they arrive, their mother comes into the room. As they feared, she does not control her anger. She blames her husband for everything, including the fact that Wakem now owns the house and land. Mr. Tulliver is shocked to hear this, but he is also humbled. He realizes how he has led his family to ruin. He says he is willing to do whatever is required of him.