Summary and Analysis
Book 3: The Downfall:
Chapter 5 - Tom Applies His Knife to the Oyster
Tom goes to see his uncle Deane about a job. He has no definite plan, but he knows he does not "want to save money slowly and retire on a moderate fortune like his uncle Glegg," but to rise fast like his uncle Deane.
Mr. Deane is at the bank, and Tom waits until he finishes his business. Mr. Deane asks Tom whether he knows bookkeeping. Tom admits he does not; nor does he know much else of value to a businessman. Mr. Deane feels "a sort of repulsion" for Tom's acquirements in Latin, history, and geometry. He advises Tom that the way to get ahead is to start at the bottom and keep his eyes open. But he says one has to be "the right sort of material" for that, and Tom's education will be a hindrance. Tom promises that he can "soon forget it all." He says he would rather do what will be best in the end and asks if there is a position open in the warehouse or wharf. Mr. Deane says he will help Tom, but for no better reason than that Tom is his nephew, for "it remains to be seen whether you're good for anything." Tom is hurt but promises to be a credit to his uncle. He is dismissed without a promise of help, but with hope.
At home Maggie asks Tom what their uncle said, and Tom says that his education is good for nothing, that he needs to learn bookkeeping. Maggie wishes she knew bookkeeping so she could teach it to Tom. Tom, having "just come from being lectured," is angry and accuses Maggie of conceit. His harshness drives Maggie to tears.
The Dodson side of Tom's character is shown in his refusal to resent his aunts' failure to help his family. He too feels that it is not their place to "give away their money plentifully to those who had not taken care of their own money." Moreover, he is confident that he will never deserve "just severity." This is the attitude which colors all his future relations with Maggie.
Tom at this point still expects his education to be of use to him, and he still has some hopes of being a "fine gentleman." The world's view of him is shown to be very different. He is said to have been brought up "to turn up his nose at his father's customers, and to be a fine gentleman — not much else . . . ." As we have already seen, this is the exact truth. He has no conception of what will be necessary to achieve what he wants.
Mr. Deane provides this knowledge. He is contrasted with Mr. Riley: unlike that man, he will not give unfounded opinions on education. "He was not going to speak rashly of a raw material in which he had had no experience." He does know business. The author presents him as a typical hard-headed businessman, but avoids caricature.
The irony of Tom's situation is summed up in his earnest statement that his education will be no hindrance: "I shall soon forget it all."
To cover his disappointment, Tom is "justifiably severe" with Maggie. By his taking command, we see that Tom is becoming a man; but he is a disagreeable one. He cannot understand Maggie's unhappiness with people who "show their kindness by finding fault" — a precise statement of the Dodson character.