Summary and Analysis Book 3: The Downfall: Chapter 9



As Mr. Tulliver grows stronger, he must struggle with himself to keep his promise to work for Wakem. His wife's sisters remind him "what he was bound to do for poor Bessy's sake," and only "dread of needing their help" keeps him from disregarding their advice. His inability to do other work, and most of all his love of his home ground, influence him to stay. But one evening his "choice of hardships" makes him particularly irritable, and when Tom comes home from work Mr. Tulliver tells him there is something he must write in the family Bible. Tulliver says he has decided to stay and serve Wakem, but he will not forgive him. Maggie argues that it is "wicked to curse and bear malice," but her father makes Tom write that he takes service under Wakem to make amends to his wife, but that he wishes "evil may befall him." After Tom reads it over, Tulliver has him write that Tom himself will "make him and his feel it," when the chance comes. Over Maggie's protest, Tom writes and signs it.


Tom has become the man of the house. He is accepted as such by both his parents and by Maggie. This reversal of roles by Tom and his father is like that between Maggie and her father when she nursed him as he lay unconscious.

Tulliver's action in writing his hatred in the Bible is explained by the author in the next chapter. Religion is one thing and daily life another. This has been touched upon several times, and will be repeated when Maggie returns from her elopement with Stephen. Another aspect of his action, however, is that the Bible is the repository of family covenants, and Tulliver intends this inscription to bind his son. He has transferred all his hopes and desires to his son. This symbolic act has great bearing on Tom's later attitude to Maggie and Philip. He uses it to break up their early romance, and the fact that she disregards it causes him to distrust her.

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