Character Analysis Maggie Tulliver


She is in most ways the opposite of Tom. She is her father's daughter, and she has inherited his warm feeling for other people and his impetuosity. But she has none of his masculine self-assurance.

As a child Maggie is highly intelligent, but likely to be forgetful. She acts rashly without considering consequences. This is one of the results of her great sensitivity, for she cannot abide criticism or harsh judgments on her. By the same token, she never judges others harshly. She has none of Tom's arrogant self-righteousness. She is easily convinced that she has done wrong, despite the injury this causes to her sensitive soul. She is somewhat vain about her cleverness, but as this is never recognized by the people around her, it never turns into conceit.

For Maggie, as for Tom, the bankruptcy is one of the most important events of her life; but it affects her in a different way. While it is a goad to Tom's ambition, it drives Maggie to renunciation of the world which treats her so harshly. At first this takes the form of simple helping around home and giving up of childish self-indulgence; but the discovery of Thomas à Kempis gives method and meaning to her renunciation. Nevertheless hers remains basically a childish revolt, a hope of avoiding pain by giving up pleasure.

Maggie's concern for other people is the thing which breaks her free from this self-imposed exile. She begins to see Philip Wakem out of pity for him, and he reawakens her desire for life. This desire is one of the two most important threads in Maggie's character. It is a desire to have "more of everything," and it corresponds to the other characters' desire for property. Only Maggie and Philip show it in this form, as a longing for music, art, and life.

Maggie's wish to avoid hurting people finally comes in opposition to her desires. Her failure to resolve that conflict leads her to the point of having to choose whom she will hurt. She sees it as a conflict of duty and passion, but that is only part of the problem. In her case it becomes difficult to tell just where duty lies. At this crisis she reacts as she did to the bankruptcy: she banishes herself. Her reaction is consistent with what has been seen of her since childhood. It represents the fruit of the moral system she has been building for herself, a system based on the good of others. She carries it through with great determination, even when she finds that, as before, she has not foreseen many of the consequences.

Back to Top