Mr. Tulliver states his intention of sending Tom to a different school, where he can learn to be "a sort o' engineer, or a surveyor, or an auctioneer and vallyer, like Riley, or one o' them smartish businesses as are all profits and no outlay . . . ." Mrs. Tulliver wishes to call in the aunts and uncles to discuss the proposition. Mr. Tulliver says he will do as he pleases. His wife is shocked at his independence of his wealthier relatives, and Tulliver himself does not know quite where he should send Tom. He decides to ask advice from Mr. Riley, a man of some education. Mrs. Tulliver worries about how Tom will live, who will do his washing, and whether he will get enough to eat.
The talk turns to Maggie, who is said to take after her father. She is clever, but it "all runs to naughtiness." She cares little about her appearance and is forgetful in other ways.
This is all seen to be true as Maggie comes in late for tea with her hair in disarray. Mrs. Tulliver tries to persuade her to do her patchwork for her aunt Glegg, but Maggie expresses a strong dislike for both patchwork and her aunt. This amuses Mr. Tulliver. Mrs. Tulliver frets, because Maggie is so different from what she herself was as a child.
Maggie Tulliver and her parents are strongly characterized at once, partly by their actions, but also partly by their speech. Mr. and Mrs. Tulliver speak a strong country dialect, but it never becomes obtrusive. Instead, it becomes a source of comic irony through contrast with the author's own vocabulary:
"You may kill every fowl i' the yard, if you like, Bessy, but I shall ask neither aunt nor uncle what I'm to do wi' my own lad," said Mr. Tulliver defiantly.
"Dear heart!" said Mrs. Tulliver, shocked at this sanguinary rhetoric . . . .
Note that Maggie does not speak this dialect at all.
Both Maggie and her father are at once seen to be headstrong, inclined to have their own way against all objections. It is made clear that Maggie is not like her mother's family; in fact, she is considered "too 'cute for a woman." This is one of the main problems treated in the novel. We should note also her father's offhand reference to lawyers as "raskills." This attitude becomes highly important later on.
Mrs. Tulliver's nature contrasts strongly with these two. The author sums her up as "healthy, fair, plump, and dull-witted; in short, the flower of her family for beauty and amiability." This is exactly as she has appeared to be; and it is ironic because her family really does consider fair dull-wittedness to be the height of womanly charm.
Although he does not appear directly, Maggie's brother Tom is also introduced. He is said to take after Mrs. Tulliver's family. This is put in a humorous way, but it should be remembered as the story progresses. The standards of his mother's family guide most of Tom's actions.
The nature of Mrs. Tulliver's family traits are well portrayed in her speech and actions. She is supremely concerned with her household goods, with their maintenance and correct use. "Correctness" is valued above comfort. Correctness extends even to, or especially to, dying. The best sheets are to be saved for a funeral, rather than special use for the living. Notice also the images which appear in Mrs. Tulliver's speech and which are connected with her — food, house wares, keys, and storerooms. These, particularly keys, later are even more closely connected with her sisters.