Summary and Analysis
Book 3: The Downfall:
Chapter 7 - How a Hen Takes to Stratagem
Mr. Tulliver slowly recovers, but he is unaware of the lapse of time and still imagines himself to be in the "first stage of his misfortunes," able to find a plan to save the mill. His wife and children hope that uncle Deane's company may buy the mill and carry on business, but "business caution" forbids bidding too high. Uncle Deane is clearly interested in the family, for he has brought Lucy to visit them and he has found Tom a place in the warehouse.
Mrs. Tulliver, to help matters along, decides that by speaking to Wakem she can make certain that Mr. Deane's company will be able to buy the mill. She believes he must be kindly disposed toward herself, "whom he knew to have been a Miss Dodson." Therefore she goes secretly to Wakem's office and informs him that she is not responsible for her husband's actions, that she herself has never abused Mr. Wakem, and that it would be kind of him not to buy the mill. She tells him that Guest and Company are thinking of buying it and keeping Mr. Tulliver as manager. Wakem suggests that he could buy the mill himself and employ Mr. Tulliver, but Mrs. Tulliver says her husband "could niver be got to do it." She reminds Wakem that their sons were at school together; but at that point she is shown out of the office.
Wakem has never intended to buy the mill, but now he begins to see advantages in it. Tulliver's railing has never bothered Wakem and he does not feel vindictive; but he thinks it would be pleasant to "see an enemy humiliated" by his benevolence. And there are other good reasons for purchasing the mill, "quite apart from any benevolent vengeance on the miller." It is a good business investment, and Mr. Tulliver would be an honest manager. In addition, Wakem has other sons besides Philip, and the mill might in the future "furnish a highly suitable position for a certain favourite lad whom he meant to bring on in the world."
Note how once again actions which are central to the plot remain at the periphery of the story while the author concentrates on the social and personal relationships which develop from them. Tom's job is mentioned, but never studied, even though in this part of the book so many lives are changed by his becoming the breadwinner of the Tulliver family.
Mrs. Tulliver is characterized as a hen. The metaphor makes tangible the foolishness of her actions and triviality of her mind. She vastly overrates the effect that her family connections will have on Wakem — a part of the general overrating of the Dodson family by itself. Indeed, she talks of "bad luck i' marrying out o' my own family," as though she would have preferred to marry within it. As usual, her actions have an ironic result: Wakem is not persuaded to sell the mill, but to keep it. Her argument is not well-calculated to rouse Wakem's conscience. A point to notice is her calling up memories of Tom's school days with Philip: " . . . and my boy, as there isn't a nicer, handsomer, straighter boy nowhere, went to school with your son . . . ."
Wakem has been seen entirely through Tulliver's eyes. He now appears, not as a wicked-hearted lawyer, but as a clever but respectable man. His wickedness is made light of in an ironic presentation of Tulliver's views on the matter: "On an a priori view of Wakem's aquiline nose, which offended Mr. Tulliver, there was not more rascality than in the shape of his stiff shirt-collar, though this too, along with his nose, might have become fraught with damnatory meaning when once the rascality was ascertained." Nevertheless, Wakem has a certain amount of "wickedness," since it is implied that the lad for whom he intends to buy the mill is his illegitimate son.
Tulliver has overrated his own importance as his wife does her family's, for Wakem holds no grudge against him. He considers Tulliver only as an easy opponent, "a hot-tempered fellow, who would always give you a handle against him."
Note that only caution and lack of imagination keep Mr. Glegg from helping the Tullivers: "the thing lay quite beyond his imagination; the good-natured man felt sincere pity for the Tulliver family, but his money was all locked up in excellent mortgages, and he could run no risk; that would be unfair to his own relatives." Prudence matters above all, and things which have not been done before are unthinkable. Money is to be piled up for distribution at death — and not before. Even though Mr. Glegg wants to be charitable, he cannot; for charity consists in small things, and he cannot imagine it otherwise: "he would buy Mrs. Tulliver a pound of tea now and then . . . and see her pleasure on being assured it was the best black." The author is saying that pity by itself is not enough when there is the possibility of acting. Bob Jakin is given as an example of pity which acts to relieve a need.
Notice should be taken of the author's comment that it is inherent in our lives that "men have to suffer for each other's sins . . . that even justice makes its victims . . . ." This becomes a crucial point in Maggie's dilemma at the end of the book, when she must forsake her friends and family or the man she loves.