Summary and Analysis
Book 4: The Valley of Humiliation:
Chapter 2 - The Torn Nest Is Pierced by the Thorns
Maggie, at thirteen, is old for her years but lacks Tom's self-command. Tom throws himself into his work, but Maggie has nothing to do. Mrs. Tulliver remains "Bewildered in this empty life," but this is less painful to Maggie than her father's sullenness. She finds it incomprehensible that they never feel any joy.
Mr. Tulliver refuses to be "reconciled with his lot," but all of the family feel that his debts must be paid, although that seems "a deep pit to fill. Few visitors come now, for "there is a chill air surrounding those who are down in the world . . . ."
Tom's and Maggie's characters are effectively summed up in a few phrases. Maggie has at thirteen years of age an "entire want of . . . prudence and self-command," while these are the very things that make Tom "manly in the midst of his intellectual boyishness." These phrases show Tom and Maggie at one stage in their development, but they are consistent with what we see of them throughout the book. Tom's "clear prosaic eyes" are further contrasted with Maggie's "feeling or imagination."
Tom is forced into concentration on one thing — "ambitious resistance to misfortune." Later he continues in this even after the need is gone. His resistance is largely a result of the Dodson "proud, honest egoism," with pride perhaps the more important component. The same circumstances, however, make Maggie to feel "pitying love almost as an inspiration."
Once again the lives of a few characters are placed in a larger social context by the author and connected with the real world. The Tullivers have few visitors since they are down in the world, and the author reminds us that this does not happen only in novels.
Note the changing imagery of the river. Where in the last chapter it was at once a model of society and "an angry, destroying god," here it is "pitying love" which flows in a "strong tide." All of these metaphors will come to fruition in the final part of the novel.