Tom Tulliver: Character Analysis in The Mill on The Floss

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      Tom Tulliver has been closely modeled on George Eliot’s brother Isaac. He is a much simpler character than Maggie and hence does not require any detailed treatment.

As a Boy—Personal Appearance

      When the novel opens, Tom is a young lad of about twelve or thirteen years of age. The novelist tells us, “He was one of those lads that grow everywhere in England, and, at twelve or thirteen years of age, look as much alike as goslings—a lad with light brown hair, cheeks of cream and roses, full lips, indeterminate nose and eyebrows.” As a boy he is not good at studies and his father considers that Maggie is more Ccute’ than Tom. At Mr. Stelling’s he is no good at Latin Grammar and Geometry, and is unable to prepare his lessons. He also fails to appreciate Mr. Stelling’s jokes. But he is very good at outdoor games arid sports. In games and sports he can hold his own against any other lad of his own age. At Jacob’s Academy, he can thrash any boy. They have many a fight and Tom always comes out victorious. He thrashes even Bob Jakin when he is unfair and indulges in foul play.

Courage and Determination: Sense of Self-respect

      Mr. Tulliver’s financial ruin and bankruptcy transform Tom, a boy, into a young man. He is only fifteen at the time, but he faces the situation with great courage and determination. He takes his father’s side, and frankly and boldly tells his uncles and aunts that they are unhelpful, and that he is not going to tolerate any insults from them. He refuses to ask the Mosses to return the three hundred pounds that they owed them, for he knows that his father loved his sister, and his feelings would be hurt. “It was a remarkable manifestation of self-command and practical judgment in a lad of fifteen, that when his aunt Glegg ceased, he began to speak in a quiet and respectful manner, though with a good deal of trembling.” He shared his father's hatred of the Wakem family and opposed the proposal that his father should become the manager of Dorlcote Mill as an employee of Wakem. He worked very hard in order to save enough to pay off the family debts. He sacrificed his rest, his comfort and every pleasure of life in order to redeem family honor. It was chiefly through his earnings that Mr. Tulliver was ultimately able to pay off his debts and call himself a free man.

Self-righteous and Callous: Contrasted with Maggie

      While Maggie is her father’s daughter, noble, generous and forgiving, Tom is every inch a Dodson. He is rigid, callous and self-righteous. This is clearly seen in his relationship with Maggie, Not that he does not love Maggie, but Maggie’s love is more intense, more thorough and self-effacing. Tom, too, loves her, but he regards her as a ‘silly little thing whom it is his duty to punish and correct. Even as a boy he punishes her for her little acts of carelessness by refusing to play with her, or by transferring his attention to their cousin Lucy. He is not even conscious of the acute pain which he causes to his little, affectionate sister in this way. Later in life when he finds that she has been meeting secretly their enemy Philip, he is rigid and unforgiving. He rebukes, her severely and compels her to promise that she would never again meet Philip. What Maggie says to him on this occasion is fully justified, “You have no sense of your own imperfection sand your own sins. You are nothing but a Pharisee. You thank God for nothing but your own virtues—you think that they are great enough to win you everything else.” To this reproach, Tom’s, reply is hard and callous. “Very well—that is your view of things. You need say no more to show me what a wide distance there is between us. Let us remember that in future, and be silent.”

Rigid and Unforgiving—Fails to Understand Maggie

      He painly tells her that he could not trust her and that she, is a deceitful girl. In this connection R.W. Nicoll aptly observes: “Its is natural that the relationship that Maggie has developed with Philip should bring her into collision with her brother. Tom has no taste for poetry art and music, but his plunge into difficulties has called, forth the sturdy qualities of the Tulliver race, and we sympathise with his energy in trying to rebuild the family fortunes. The quarrel arises inevitably when he finds that his sister is in love with a youth, not only deficient in the manly qualities, but son and heir to the enemy against whom he has taken a vow of vengeance.” He is equally rigid and unforgiving when, later in the novel, Maggie elopes with Stephen Guest. It was a momentary act of weakness, and she is entirely innocent and self-sacrificing. She gives up Stephen because she does not like to ruin the happiness of her cousin. She knows that the episode will expose her to much adverse criticism but she prefers to lace the situation rather than wrong her cousin. But Tom fails to understand her real nobility and selflessness, is cruel to her, and shuts his doors against her. He tells her, “I can’t believe in you anymore. You have been carrying on a clandestine relation with Stephen Guest—as you did before with another You have been using Philip Wakem as a screen to deceive Lucy— the kindest friend you ever had.” Nothing can be more callous or wrong-headed than such accusation.

Vain and Conceited

      Such rigidity and callousness arise from the fact that Tom is self-righteous and has a very high opinion of himself. He thinks that he is always right. He is vain and conceited and has no regrets for anything that he has done. In this respect again, he is to be contrasted with Maggie. Maggie acts impulsively and rashly, and then regrets what she has done.

      Tom is always self-righteous, always of the view that what he did was right and proper. He drives away his innocent, loving sister from his doors, and feels self-righteous because he has saved, he thinks, family honor, and also provided (in terms of money) for the sister who had disgraced the family. Not even once does he think of the intense agony and suffering he has caused to that loving and self-sacrificing soul, it is only in the end when Maggie risks her life to save him, that he realizes his mistake, and is conscious of her love, nobility and generosity. But by that time it is too late, and the two go down in a loving embrace.

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