The Mill on the Floss

The Mill on the Floss Summary and Analysis of Book III - The Downfall

Chapter I - What Had Happened at Home

Right after finding out he has lost the lawsuit, Mr. Tulliver turns his obstinacy towards planning to provide for himself and his family. He believes Mr. Furley, who owns the mortgage on the land, will be willing to buy the mill from Mr. Tulliver and keep him on as a tenant, and that his wife will be able to get a loan from the Pullets so that they won’t have to give up their furniture. Still, he writes to Maggie to tell her to come home immediately, as he would find her presence comforting.

He goes the next morning to see his lawyer, Mr. Gore, to find out if Mr. Furley will buy the mill, but on his way he meets Mr. Gore’s clerk, who has a letter from the lawyer for him. He reads it before continuing on his way, and learns that Mr. Furley, strapped for cash himself, had sold Mr. Tulliver’s mortgage to Mr. Wakem. Half an hour later, Mr. Tulliver’s waggoner finds him lying unconscious by the roadside. When Maggie arrives, he has regained consciousness but not his senses; he only asks for the letter and “the little wench”, and doesn’t seem to recognize his wife or the doctor. Maggie’s presence comforts him, but his condition does not improve.

Though the aunts and uncles oppose it, both Mrs. Tulliver and Maggie decide they need Tom at home, so Maggie offers to retrieve him from school. On their way back to the mill, Maggie tells Tom about the letter which was believed to have caused Mr. Tulliver’s illness, and Tom tells Maggie that she must never speak to Philip again.

Chapter II - Mrs. Tulliver's Teraphim, or Household Gods

When Maggie and Tom arrive at the mill, a stranger is sitting in their father’s chair. Maggie doesn’t understand who he is, but Tom figures out that he is the bailiff who has come since they lost the mill. He finds his mother, who explains that all of their furniture and goods are going to be sold. Maggie's incredulous at her mother's behavior; she doesn't understand why Mrs. Tulliver is concerning herself with her possessions rather than her husband. Tom tells his mother that he will find a way to help.

Chapter III - The Family Council

The aunts and uncles, except Mr. Deane, come to Dorlcote Mill to confer. Pullet and Deane offer to buy some of the Tullivers’ things when they come up at auction, but only those that they actually want. Glegg thinks Mrs. Tulliver should stop worrying about her things, and think instead of the disgrace her husband has brought to the family.

Mrs. Glegg insists Maggie and Tom join the discussion, in order to be properly humbled. Tom - in a surprisingly mature tone - suggests that the aunts, rather than leaving money to Tom and Maggie in their will, advance it to them now so they can keep their furniture and the mill. Mrs. Glegg is quite offended by this, as she doesn’t think she, who has saved her money, should have to pay for those who failed to be as smart with their own. Mr. Glegg, more kindly, explains that with the massive legal debts, it’s more important for the aunts and uncles to use their money to make sure the family is fed, rather than keeping their furniture.

Maggie, sick of hearing her father being insulted and blamed, says that the aunts should stay away from them if all they’re going to do is berate her father and not even help their own sister. The aunts, of course, take this as confirmation that Maggie, as they always expected, will come to no good.

Mrs. Moss, having heard of Mr. Tulliver’s troubles, arrives, and feels quite guilty that she can’t afford to pay back the money Mr. Tulliver lent her family. Mr. Glegg points out that if Mr. Tulliver is made bankrupt, the creditors will force Mr. Moss to pay back the money anyway. Tom reports that Mr. Tulliver never wanted her to have to pay it back if it would have been a hardship, so Mr. Glegg recommends they destroy the note.

Chapter IV - A Vanishing Gleam

Mr. Glegg, Tom, Maggie, and Mrs. Moss go to Mr. Tulliver’s room to look for the note. The familiar sound of the lid of the chest crashing wakes Tulliver from his stupor, and he is for the first time himself again. He tells Tom he’ll have to take care of Maggie and his mother, and agrees that they should destroy Mr. Moss’s note. He says that everything that has happened is the law and Wakem’s fault, and as he gets agitated again, he falls back into his stupor.

Chapter V - Tom Applies His Knife to the Oyster

The next day Tom goes to St. Ogg’s to ask his uncle Deane's advice about getting some kind of job. He believes that like his uncles Deane and Glegg, he should be able to make himself rich through labor. But Mr. Deane is rather discouraging, telling him it will take a long time and lots of work, and his education probably won’t help him at all as he has learned no proper skill. Deane suggests Tom find a job on the wharf, but he is fearful of vouching for his nephew as he has yet to prove himself valuable. When he gets home, Maggie tries to comfort him, but he gets mad at her for always acting superior.

Chapter VI -Tending to Refute the Popular Prejudice against the Present of a Pocket-Knife

The sale of the household goods is finally over, and a familiar-looking young man comes to see Tom. He turns out to be Bob Jakin, now 19. He has recently come into some money for preventing a fire at his job and he offers it all to Tom, who he has always remembered fondly for giving him his pocketknife. Tom and Maggie won’t accept it, but thank him wholeheartedly.

Chapter VII - How a Hen Takes to Stratagem

Mr. Tulliver seems to slowly be improving, while the sale of the mill is also moving forward. Mr. Deane finds Tom a temporary position in the warehouse and sets him up with lessons in bookkeeping. Mrs. Tulliver secretly plots to go to Mr. Wakem and reason with him in order to keep him from bidding on the mill so that Mr. Deane’s company can get it at a reasonable price and keep Mr. Tulliver on as manager.

Telling Tom she is going to sell some pickles, Mrs. Tulliver goes to Mr. Wakem’s office instead. She pleads with him not to buy the mill. Before their meeting, Mr. Wakem had no intention of buying Dorlcote, but Mrs. Tulliver’s pleading convinces him that not only would it be a great investment, it would also be the perfect humiliation to inflict on Mr. Tulliver.

Chapter VIII - Daylight on the Wreck

Mr. Wakem does indeed buy the mill, and tells all the aunts and uncles that he would be glad to have Mr. Tulliver as his manager once he is well. Mr. Tulliver, still ignorant of this, decides he is ready to leave his bedroom for the first time since his illness, but his family can’t get him to understand that several weeks have gone by.

He goes downstairs and sees the absence of furniture, and the children explain everything to him - except they keep from him that it is Wakem who has bought the mill for fear of upsetting him further. Mrs. Tulliver comes in and tells him this last piece of information, pleading with him to take the job of manager, and he is beyond putting up a fight.

Chapter IX - An Item Added to the Family Register

Although Mr. Tulliver abhors the idea of working for Mr. Wakem, he loves the mill and doesn’t want to leave it. He also knows that if he did, he would have no way to survive without getting help from his wife’s sisters, which he can’t stomach. So he agrees to work for Mr. Wakem, although he vows that he will never forgive him for what he’s done, and he gets Tom to vow the same by writing as such in the family Bible.


In the third book, we see the world after Tom and Maggie’s loss of innocence. Though they are united by tragedy at the beginning of their father's illness, cracks in this union begin to form almost instantly as we see their childhood tendencies firming into adult characteristics. Tom’s “natural inclination to blame” is solidified by “the natural strength and firmness of his nature...beginning to assert itself” (168-9). This leads to him implicitly blaming Mr. Tulliver for the family’s current situation, which Maggie cannot stand: ”Maggie hated blame: she had been blamed all her life” (169), and often by Tom.

This crack in their unity is brief, for right after their father’s sad presence leads them to forget “everything else in the sense that they had one father and one sorrow” (169). Once again it is a moment of stark painful emotion that unifies them, but in the scene immediately preceding it we have seen how their differences are only becoming more pronounced in their adult characters, and so will cause more major divisions down the line.

The world after the fall is a bleak one, and not just because of Maggie and Tom’s inability to get along for any period of time. Mr. Tulliver, though stubborn, prideful, and sometimes ignorant, is essentially a good man, and yet misfortune after misfortune fall upon him as he loses his home, his livelihood, his furniture, his sanity, and his pride. If to some extent his own behavior and litigiousness has led to this outcome, the consequences are most certainly not in proportion to his mistakes, and so the world seems a very bleak place indeed.

The situation should not be the direst, for his wife’s relatives have plenty of money and are in a position to help the family; and yet, they do so only in the most minimal ways, buying at auction their sister’s household goods that they wanted anyway, and doing nothing to protect the things she cares most about. Their failure of generosity does not mean they stay out of it, however; they are perfectly happy to heap blame on Mr. Tulliver and revel in their moral superiority, as they believe is evidenced by their material wealth. They care about the Tulliver’s fall, certainly, but only in so much as it reflects on their family.

Maggie and Tom are on opposite sides concerning their relatives' plans for the Tullivers. While Maggie aims an outburst of vitriol at her aunts and uncles for showing up only to berate her father, Tom silently understands why money is not handed out: "Why should people give away their money plentifully to those who had not taken care of their own money? Tom saw some justice in severity; and all the more, because he had confidence in himself that he should never deserve that just severity." (200) Thus begins Tom's journey to seek a fortune for himself - though it does not run smoothly.

The Dodson clan's behavior contrasts sharply with that of Mr. Tulliver, who lends to his sister’s family even to his own ruin. It contrasts even more dramatically with Bob Jakin’s behavior when he offers Tom almost everything he has, just because of a remembered childhood kindness; certainly, he has no familial obligation to the Tullivers. There are these moments of kindness and light in this bleaker adult world that Maggie and Tom have been thrown into, but the lack of generosity of money or of spirit from their own family in the third book makes it clear how important money was to those of a certain class in this society, and how little true generosity was valued. Indeed, Maggie is admonished for her opinion that those with the means should offer help to those in need, no matter what is deemed socially-acceptable.