Summary and Analysis
Book 1: Boy and Girl: Chapter 9
While her father has gone to the Mosses, Maggie has gone with her mother and Tom and Lucy to visit the Pullets at Garum Firs. Maggie is uncomfortable in her good clothes, but Lucy is pretty and neat as ever. They have been dressed early, so the children pass the time by building card houses. Maggie is not good at it, and she becomes angry when Tom laughs. He retaliates by saying he likes Lucy better than her. In her agitation she upsets Tom's card house, which makes him very angry. He pays no attention to her apologies.
At Garum Firs they are met at the door by Aunt Pullet, who sends out an old doormat for them to wipe their feet on, so that the good one will not be soiled. Inside the house it is the same — the stair carpets are rolled up to avoid wear, and the polished steps are slippery. Mrs. Pullet offers to show Mrs. Tulliver her new bonnet, but first it is necessary to unlock the linen closet to get the key to the best room, where the bonnet is deposited. The children are taken along to keep them from touching things.
In the best room the furniture lies in white shrouds, and the bonnet is wrapped in many layers of paper. Mrs. Pullet is mournful at the possibility that Cousin Abbott may die, so that she will have to wear crape and not get any wear out of the bonnet.
Tom has been entertained by uncle Pullet, whom he considers a silly fellow, even though he is rich. When the women return, uncle Pullet suggests they have some sweet cakes. Maggie manages to crush hers underfoot. This makes her despair, for she has been looking forward to hearing Pullet's music box, and now she is afraid that the pleasure will be denied her. However, she gets Lucy to ask their uncle to play it, and after suitable delay he obliges.
Maggie is enchanted by music, and when it ends she runs to Tom to put her arms around him. In the process she upsets his cowslip wine, and he rightfully repels her. Mrs. Tulliver, foreseeing further misbehavior, suggests that the children go outdoors.
Mrs. Tulliver takes the opportunity to open conversation on sister Glegg, but she is sidetracked onto the subject of Mrs. Glegg's and Mrs. Pullet's health, and Mr. Pullet's excellent memory for the proper time to take medicines. However, Mrs.
Pullet is finally prevailed upon to intercede with Mrs. Glegg to let Tolliver's debt stand. Mrs. Tulliver is convinced that this must be done because her husband will never humble himself. She is still unaware of his determination to pay the debt.
The "having" character of the Dodsons is fully exposed, but the comedy which accompanies the exposure partly disguises the author's seriousness. At Garum Firs, "good" things are never used: "the very scraper had a deputy to do its dirty work." Possessions are locked away and the key is locked up in turn. The children are not left alone because "they'll be touching something if we leave 'em behind." Even Tom is compelled to boredom despite the abundance of animals, for he is denied the opportunity to throw stones at them. The narrowness of these lives is shown in the ironic profundity with which the author invests their considerations on the merits of full-crowned caps, and in Mr. Pullet's interest in a bit of gossip. Yet money overcomes all deficiencies; even Tom has learned that. "He had described uncle Pullet as a nincompoop, taking care at the same time to observe that he was a very 'rich fellow'." Possessions are felt to determine character: ownership of a music box "was a proof that Mr. Pullet's character was not of that entire nullity which might otherwise have been attributed to it." Following earlier implications comes this statement of Dodson principles: Mrs. Pullet "did not forget what was due to people of independent fortune."
Compared to them, Mrs. Moss's strength is in her ability to live, and not simply pile up earthly treasures. The comparison is meant to be kept in mind, for there is an implied contrast between Pullet and Moss in the reference to the fat toads owned by that gentleman farmer, while "toads who paid rent were naturally leaner."
Lucy and Maggie are continuously contrasted throughout the chapter. Lucy is neat, she is quiet, she is already successful with men (with Tom, now), she is the good child who always does what she is desired to do. Maggie is an impetuous, imaginative creature whose soul is ravished by music, who cannot help but offend these straitlaced, self-important people.