The Mill on the Floss By George Eliot Summary and Analysis Book 5: Wheat and Tares: Chapter 2 - Aunt Glegg Learns the Breadth of Bob's Thumb

Summary

While Maggie has struggled "within her own soul," Tom has been "gaining more definite conquests." His salary has been raised, and it is hinted that he might be trusted to travel for the firm. All of Tom's money goes into his father's tin box; for despite his "very strong appetite for pleasure" he is shrewd enough to see that only "present abstinence" can gain that end. Now that Tom is doing well, the family begin to talk of doing something for the boy.

Bob Jakin visits Tom and Maggie regularly, and one evening he asks Tom privately if he would be interested in "sending out a bit of cargo to foreign ports." Bob has a ship-captain friend who is willing to help. All of Tom's money is in his father's care, and Mr. Tulliver cannot bear to part with any of it, for if it was lost he would never be able to make up the loss in his lifetime. He wants to accumulate enough to pay all the debts at once.

Tom is not willing to give up altogether, so he goes to Mr. Glegg. Bob goes along to explain the proposition. Bob's loquacity leaves Mr. Glegg astonished and amused, but he is interested and asks to hear more. Tom desires a small loan at interest. When Mr. Glegg asks what Bob gets from Tom, Bob first answers that he is doing it for friendship; but when he sees that Mr. Glegg does not approve, he adds that a bigger purchase makes him look big, and it's "money in [the] pocket in the end."

Mrs. Glegg calls her husband to tea, telling Bob that he needn't stay. Tom is to bring his business inside. Bob says that he knows his place, but that Mrs. Glegg might do well to deal with the packmen she scorns. However, he admits that times are not what they once were, and pack-goods are not of the old quality. All he has is "bargains picked up dirt cheap," with only a little damage that won't show — nothing he could offer her.

When Mrs, Glegg finds that Bob's speculation may pay large interest, she is offended at being left out, but she is equally offended at being asked to contribute. Mr. Glegg decides to let Tom have fifty pounds, and his wife is indignant that she is not asked a second time. Bob admires her business acumen, and wishes he had it so he wouldn't lose money on his pack. Mrs. Glegg becomes interested in his goods. Bob is unwilling to show a sample, but does so on her demand, all the while complaining that his things should be saved for poorer women, for "three times the money for a thing as isn't half so good" is nothing to a lady like her. He is at last persuaded to sell her two damaged pieces.

Mr. Glegg is setting out with Bob and Tom to finish their business with the captain when Mrs. Glegg calls them back, insisting that she is not finished speaking. She has decided to lend Tom twenty pounds of her own. She demands interest, as giving was "niver looked for" in her family.

Tom enters this speculation without telling his father, and when it pays off he expands his operations so that by the time of Maggie's meeting with Philip he has a hundred and fifty pounds of his own and expects to pay off the debts by the end of another year.

Analysis

Tom has the same appetite for pleasure that Maggie has, but with it he combines the Dodson self-control. "His practical shrewdness told him that the means to such achievements could only lie for him in present abstinence and self-denial . . . ." He, like Maggie, practices self-denial but for an entirely different reason. The author tells us he is "a character at unity with itself," and it is true that he "has no visions beyond the distinctly possible."

But it is Bob Jakin who provides Tom the means of achieving his ambitions. Of all the characters in the novel, Bob is the one who does the most to move the world for his own ends. At the same time, he is one of the few fully generous persons to be found. His generosity and initiative are contrasted to the Gleggs' caution even in charity to their own nephew. They require security for their aid: Mr. Glegg wants to help Tom "some time, when an opportunity offered of doing so in a prudent manner, without ultimate loss . . . ." Bob has initiative; his head is "all alive inside like an old cheese . . . ."; but he is more shrewd than Mrs. Glegg herself.

The irony of this chapter arises from this contrast between Bob and Mrs. Glegg, set beside the fact that she considers herself better than him both morally and mentally — a supposition based entirely on her superior fortune. Bob perceives Mrs. Glegg's true nature, and his main sales-pitch is aimed at her private miserliness. He degrades his merchandise as "not fit to offer rich folks as can pay for the look o' things as nobody sees." He is so skillful that she remains patronizing even while she is being taken.

Mr. Tulliver's former generosity is changing to closeness. Because of his strong nature earlier, the change is all the more impressive. It is most powerfully expressed in his conversation with his son about their growing hoard of coin: " . . . I wouldn't pay a dividend with the first hundred, because I wanted to see it all in a lump — and when I see it, I'm sure on't." Circumstances force Tulliver to take on some of the Dodson caution; but his passionate nature still forces him to consider the world a personal adversary.

Note that this chapter is a flashback in time. The last paragraph occurs just before the time of Maggie's first meeting with Philip.

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