Book 4, Chapter 2 Summary
Mr. Tulliver has recuperated and is back at work overseeing the mill—only now Mr. Wakem is his employer. Tom has busied himself with work in the town and does not have much to say when he is home. Tom has focused his life on his pursuit of “ambitious resistance to misfortune.” Mrs. Tulliver seems to be the most worn down by the drama of the past few months. She cannot seem to return to her old ways. All the things that had once occupied her days are now missing from her home—the linens she tended, the pots and pans she scrubbed; all the things she once cared for are gone. She is growing thinner every day, worrying over the loss of her lifetime of collecting treasures. She does not notice until Maggie calls her on ruining her health. However, this does not stop Mrs. Tulliver from insisting that she do most of the hard work around the house. She does not want her thirteen-year-old daughter to roughen her hands. Instead, Mrs. Tulliver tells Maggie to do the sewing if she wants to help out.
Of her two parents, though, Maggie worries most about her father. Mr. Tulliver is sullen and depressed. He has thrown off the childlike condition of dependence that had all but paralyzed him in his illness, but now he has grown taciturn. Where once he had been communicative, now he is withdrawn from the world as if he is putting all his energy to some inner purpose. No longer can Maggie see any joy in her father’s expressions.
Tulliver very seldom wanders off the land that had once been his. He feels shame when he must face his creditors at the market. His driving force in life is to one day free himself from debt so he will owe no one. Tom is also committed to this purpose and adds to the money tin his father keeps. Only when Maggie sees her father look at the meager savings in the container does she see a hint of her father’s pleasure expressed on his face.
Although Maggie does not fully realize it, she is the real pleasure in her father’s life now. Unfortunately, her father’s feelings for her are now spoiled with the bitterness of the recent failures he has endured. At night, when Maggie is done with her sewing, she sits at her father’s feet and presses her head against his knees. She longs for her father to stroke her head, to give her a sign of his remaining love for her. However, no matter how much Mr. Tulliver loves Maggie, when he now thinks of her, his mind is occupied with worries. He wonders how she will marry now that she has nothing financially to offer a husband. Tulliver longs for his daughter to be married well. He does not want her to suffer through life as his sister Gritty has.