Because Maggie is not allowed to go out to meet Tom on his arrival, she takes revenge by dousing her newly brushed hair in a basin of water and then goes to the attic to torment a doll she keeps as a fetish. Finally she tires of that and goes out to talk to Luke the miller. She tries to show off her cleverness to Luke, but he is not interested in any sort of learning. Luke reminds her that she has allowed Tom's rabbits to die through neglect, and Maggie is momentarily crushed. But Luke invites her to visit his wife, and she quickly forgets Tom. At Luke's home she is enchanted with a picture of the prodigal son, and she expresses her happiness that he was taken back by his father. She is pained by Luke's thought that the prodigal son was probably not much of a person.
This chapter reemphasizes things already seen in the earlier chapters — Maggie's impetuosity, her love for Tom, her mother's helplessness with her. At the same time, it introduces new aspects of these relationships. Maggie is seen to be forgetful even with persons she loves: she neglects the rabbits which Tom asked her to care for. And she is highly sensitive to criticism even when it is deserved.
Maggie's mother, however, is concerned with her daughter mainly as a reflection of herself: "Folk's 'ull think it's a judgment on me as I've got such a child — they'll think I've done summat wicked." This is the same attitude that Tom will take to her when they are grown up — that she is important mainly because her actions reflect on him.
Maggie's reaction to the prodigal son story is intended to show her tenderness of feeling, but it also looks forward to later events, when Tom, who has taken her father's place, refuses to take her back in spite of her repentance. Much of this chapter, including this incident, is seen from Maggie's point of view, and this begins to get the reader in the habit of seeing all actions in a way which is favorable to Maggie.