Summary and Analysis
Book 1: Boy and Girl:
Chapter 8 - Mr. Tulliver Shows His Weaker Side
Mrs. Tulliver reminds her husband that it will be hard for him to find five hundred pounds to pay Mrs. Glegg. This convinces him that he can find it easily. But the only way he can think of to accomplish this is to demand payment of the three hundred pounds he has loaned to his brother-in-law Moss. Accordingly, he rides the next day to visit Moss, who is a farmer in the impoverished parish of Basset. Along the way Tulliver encourages himself by thinking how it will be for Moss's own good not to let him slide by any longer.
The Moss farm is tumble-down and decrepit. Tulliver is met by his sister, Gritty, and her many children. He addresses her formally, to keep his distance, and asks for her husband. He declines to come in, saying he must return home shortly. Mrs. Moss asks about Tom and wishes that she could see Maggie. Her praise of Maggie's cleverness softens Tulliver in spite of himself. To Tulliver's remark that her four girls are enough for one family, she replies that they have a brother apiece, who she hopes will love and remember them. Her wish that Tom will also be good to Maggie affects him even more strongly, for it reminds him that Mrs. Moss is his own sister.
Mr. Moss comes up, and the two men go into the garden to talk. Tulliver opens by observing how poorly Moss is caring for his wheat. Moss defends himself by saying that poor farmers have no money to spare for that, and this slight quarrel allows Tulliver to remind Moss of the money he has borrowed. He says he cannot leave the money out any longer, but must have it back. Moss says he will have to sell his place to do it. Tulliver tells him that he must do it any way he can, and leaves him. He refuses his sister's invitation to come in, and rides off with a curt good-by.
Tulliver has not ridden out of sight of the house before he stops his horse and sits thinking. He returns and finds that Mrs. Moss has been crying, and that her husband has gone back to the field. She offers to send for him, but Tulliver declines. He tells her that they may let the money go, and that he will send Maggie to see her. His sister gives tearful thanks, and sends with him a colored egg which she had prepared for Maggie. Tulliver rides home feeling that he has escaped a danger, and that somehow this will make Tom kinder to Maggie on some distant day.
Note the contrast of Tulliver's financial position with Mrs. Glegg's. Where she has more than the world realizes, "he was held to be a much more substantial man than he really was." Note too that we are given here the first hint of an attitude that assumes major importance later — that poverty is wicked, or that misfortune indicates a lack of virtue. It is ironic that these are introduced by Tulliver's thoughts, since he himself later goes bankrupt. He "got up a due amount of irritation against Moss as a man without capital, who, if murrain and blight were abroad, was sure to have his share of them . . . ." This implication is the subject of a direct statement a few lines later: Mrs. Moss "thought it was in the order of nature that people who were poorly off should be snubbed."
The case of Mrs. Moss is handled delicately. It is clearly implied that there is a certain sense of shame at her husband's poverty. But she is seen to be the first person, besides Maggie, in whom love is of primary importance. This is particularly clear in the statement that "Mrs. Moss had eight children, but could never overcome her regret that the twins had not lived" — this in spite of poverty. She is contrasted with the Dodson sisters, in whom correctness and custom overweigh all emotion.
Against this background, Tulliver's action in calling in his money from Moss looks cruel; but the cruelty makes his change of mind all the more creditable.
In the conversation between Tulliver and Mrs. Moss, the references to brothers caring for sisters should be noted. These are brought to a point in Tulliver's fear that "if he were hard upon his sister, it might somehow tend to make Tom hard upon Maggie at some distant day . . . ."
The author makes good use of metaphor to make her characters believable. For example, the comparison of Mr. Tulliver's actions to snatching a single thread from a skein makes an apparently inconsistent course of events seem perfectly natural.