The Mill on the Floss

by: George Eliot

Book Third, Chapters IV, V, and VI

Summary Book Third, Chapters IV, V, and VI

Tom escorts the red-haired stranger into the parlor and realizes it is Bob Jakin when Bob pulls out the pocketknife Tom had given him when they were boys. Bob reminds Tom of the early kindness of the pocketknife, and Tom asks somewhat condescendingly if there's anything he can do for Bob now. Bob says no, and before he can finish speaking, Maggie comes in the room. Maggie focuses immediately on the empty bookshelves because she wasn't expecting so many books to have been sold. Close to tears, she sits down.

Bob continues, explaining that he has just won ten sovereigns for dousing a fire at a gentleman's mill. He puts nine of the sovereigns on the table, explaining that he used one to get himself started as a packman but that Tom should have the rest since Tom isn't as "lucky" as Bob. Tom is touched, but he refuses the money. Bob seems hurt that Tom will take nothing from him, and Maggie realizes what Bob wants, suggesting that the Tullivers will always think of Bob as a friend to depend on. Bob leaves satisfied.

Analysis

These middle chapters of Book Third consist of the nearly formal transference of power from Mr. Tulliver to Tom. Mr. Tulliver regains consciousness again briefly in Chapter IV and attempts to make arrangements. We are signaled by the narrator that Tulliver has reached the beginning of his end: "But with poor Tulliver death … was to be a long descent under thickening shadows." Tulliver is depicted throughout Book Third as a man caught in a world he no longer understands. By contrast, Tom shows himself to be adaptable and canny in Chapter V during his meeting with Deane. Tom recognizes the shift in worlds—from his father's model of slow saving to a newer model of venture capitalism—and he means to be part of the second: "he did not want to save money slowly and retire on a moderate fortune like his uncle Glegg, but he would be like his uncle Deane—get a situation in some great house of business and rise fast." The clearest sign that Tulliver is not adept within the changing world is his mistake about Tom's education. In Chapter IV, Tulliver still holds hope that Tom's education will set him off well in the world, but Deane makes clear in Chapter V what Tom already knows—the education on which his father spent much money is no good to him in the necessary world of finance and business.

The stress of the home situation seems to exacerbate Tom and Maggie's pre-existing differences. The narrator clearly documents the differences in their reactions. For example, Tom, adhering to his usual sense of justice, blames his father slightly for the family's downfall, while Maggie pities their father immensely, in part because it gives her a chance to love him more. Rather than Maggie and Tom rallying together in their family's difficult time, their relationship seems to become more tense and the differences between them heightened. In Chapter V, the differences are articulated by each when Tom becomes frustrated with Maggie and explains his perception of her ego to her. Maggie still seeks Tom's love more than anyone else's for her happiness. She calls Tom to task for not perceiving her intentions correctly and for not unconditionally loving her.

Bob Jakin's reappearance reminds us of the childhood scene between Bob and Tom and reinforces the growing theme around Tom's righteous sense of justice or fairness. Bob's big-heartedness—he has chosen to remember Tom's gift of the pocketknife rather than Tom's judgment and dismissal of him as a cheater—is contrasted with Tom's minute sense of justice. Tom applies a code of "fairness" to immediate situations, disregarding emotional attachments and the big-picture understanding of a person's character. Tom does not perceive the emotional intention behind Bob's gesture, dismissing his nine sovereigns at one point because "those sovereigns wouldn't help me much." Maggie, by contrast, understands the intention behind Bob's gesture: "That's what you would like—to have us always depend on you as a friend that we can go to—isn't it Bob?" In Chapter V, when a local publican mentions Mr. Tulliver's misfortune to Tom, Tom takes it as a jibe and inadvertently insults the publican in return. We could assume that Maggie, with her perceptive capacity for sympathetic understanding and without Tom's sense of pride, would not have misread the publican's good-natured gesture as aggressive.