Book 2: School Time
What is wrong, in the narrator’s view, with the education provided for Tom? What principles of education do you think Eliot espoused?

Even had Tom been more academically gifted, would the education provided have had its limitations? How does Eliot think the classics should be taught?

What criticisms does Eliot make of Mr. and Mrs. Stelling? (too eager for money, not helpful or kind to the pupils) What good has Mr. Stelling’s Oxford training done for him?

What are some features of Maggie’s visit to the Stellings? What frustrations does she suffer? (Mr. Stelling expresses the view that women can only learn superficially)

How do she and Tom differ in their view of Philip Wakem? How is Philip’s character presented?

How does Philip respond to Maggie? What do you make of the fact that she kisses him?

What causes the tensions between Tom and Philip? (Tom’s father has suggested that he won’t like Wakem’s son; Philip isn’t fond of sports)

What effect does Tom’s educational deficiencies have on his sensibility? (becomes a bit more sympathetic to others)

What consequences flow from Tom’s excited interest in possessing a real sword? What actions precipitate his cutting of his foot? (pretends to attack Maggie) Is Eliot making a point through this incident?

If you have read Tom Brown’s School Days, can you see parallels between Tom Tulliver and Tom Brown? (both keen on fighting, very self-righteous) How do Thomas Hughes and George Eliot view differently the issue of individual violence as a means of enforcing order?

What event abruptly ends the book? (Mr. Tulliver has lost his lawsuit and become bankrupt)

What final image concludes this section? What literary echo does it contain? (end of Paradise Lost, as Adam and Eve go forth from Eden into the harsh world)

Book 3:  Downfall

Chapter 1: What Had Happened at Home

What are some ways in which Mr. Tulliver’s fate, and the novel, exhibit features of classical tragedy? (tragic flaw, reversal and recognition)

What news precipitates Mr. Tulliver’s stroke? (deed to farm has been sold to Wakem)

What do Tulliver’s actions before and after his collapse reveal about his character? What consequences do you predict they may have?

To whom had he lent money, and from whom had he borrowed? How are we expected to judge these actions? (unwise to mortgage his furniture and to lend 250 pounds to Riley without security, kind to help his sister)

How does Tom respond to these revelations? Are his accusations accurate? (believes the lawyer had been plotting against his father; resolves never to speak to Philip again)

Why doesn’t Maggie argue against his statement?

Chapter 2: Mrs. Tulliver’s Teraphim, or Household Gods

How do Maggie, Mrs. Tulliver and Tom respond to Mr. Tulliver’s sickness and financial loss, and what does this reveal about their characters? (Maggie concerned for her father; Mrs. Tulliver feels self-pity and blames her husband; Tom takes mother’s side and blames father, joins him in hoping for revenge)

Chapter 3: The Family Council

How do the aunts and uncles respond to the news of Tulliver’s loss of the mill? (disapproval, feel his action has brought disgrace on them)

Are they willing to help the Tullivers? (unwilling to do more than purchase a few items, very cheap in how they describe their purchases)

How does Tom behave toward his aunts and uncles? (attempts to appeal to their self-interest, asks for a loan) His mother? His sister? (forbids her to interfere)

What is Maggie’s role in all this? (ignored, openly blames relatives for their selfishness)

Chapter 4: A Vanishing Gleam

What contrasting response to their loss is exhibited by their Aunt Moss?

Why hadn’t she appeared earlier? (hadn’t been told of her brother’s stroke and misfortune)

What view does Tom take of whether to require that the Mosses repay their loan? (sides with his father in not requiring it) Is his motive kindness toward his aunt? (desires to maintain his father’s decisions, little concern for what these are)

How does the narrator interpret this action? (honorable)

Do you think his behavior in this case is presented as consistent with his former character?

Who else has lent Mr. Tulliver money? (Luke) Will this be repaid?

What seems to be Eliot’s views about the repayment of debts? Would Victorians in general have agreed?

Chapter 5: Tom Applies His Knife to the Oyster

What traits are revealed in Tom’s interview with his uncle Deane? What opinions does he express of his former education and capacities? (doesn’t care for the kind of education he has received)

What kind of job does he seek? (hopes for a practical job such as held by his uncle)

How does his uncle respond? (lectures him on his ignorance, reflects with pride on his own past, eventually does give him a lowly position in his firm)

What is revealed by his words to his sister on her return home? (he will “take care of” her; she must obey him, 207)

Why doesn’t Maggie dispute this? Is she unable to seek independence?

Why doesn't Maggie dispute Tom's command that she not speak with Philip? Or his commitment to revenge?

Chapter 6: Tending to Refute the Popular Prejudice Against the Present of a Pocket Knife

To what does this chapter title ironically refer? In what way do Bob Jakin’s actions “refute the popular prejudice”? (Tom’s gift had been very important to him, 210)

What seems added to the plot by the reappearance of Bob Jakin? What light does it cast backward on the boys’ earlier fight? What does he offer Tom and Maggie? (9 of the 10 pounds he has earned)

What had Bob previously wanted to do with this money? Why do they not accept his offer?

How does his behavior contrast with that of the Tullivers’ more prosperous relatives? (offers Tom and Maggie 9 of the 10 pounds he has earned)

Chapter 7: How a Hen Takes to Stratagem

What reductive attitudes are embodied in this chapter title?

What reflections inspire Mrs. Tulliver to attempt to intervene in her husband’s affairs? (feels she has been too passive)

On what grounds does Mrs. Tulliver appeal for mercy to Mr. Wakem? (claims she disagrees with her husband’s dislike for him, appeals to her family past)

Why does her plan backfire? (Wakem realizes that Tulliver holds a continuing grudge against him) What words does he find especially offensive? (she refers to her handsome, physically well-favored son)

What would seem to be the narrator’s interpretation of this twist of events? (Mr. Tulliver’s choice of a simple-minded wife has backfired on him; Eliot generally severe on male tastes in women)

What is the narrator’s view of Wakem’s motives in buying the mill and employing Tulliver? (desire to do a seeming favor which will rankle)

What are some features of his private life? (224, has several illegitimate children and desires to provide for one of them through purchasing mill)

What kind of person does the narrator represent him as being? (sly and dishonest in his business dealings, 222)

Chapter 8: Daylight on the Wreck

What are some implications of this chapter title?

What persuades Mr. Tulliver to remain in the mill as Wakem's employee? (loves mill and land; his surroundings have become part of his identity)

Has Mr. Tulliver's illness changed him? What does he say to his wife when he agrees to do what will be best for her? (231)

Why does Tom disagree with his father's decision to remain at the mill, and what does this indicate about their differences? (has internalized his father’s grudges, 231, but is more stubborn and less realistic than even his father)

What separate roles are ascribed to men and women by the narrator? Do you think the narrator accepts this division, or may she be ironic? (harder for men to endure distress)

Chapter 9: An Item Added to the Family Register

To what “item” does this chapter title refer? Why do you think it is described so prosaically?

What do we learn about Tom’s private habits? (wants to eat alone) Does this seem a good sign for his future human relations?

What are Tulliver’s final thoughts during the period before his death?

What is the thematic significance of Tulliver’s demand that Tom inscribe in the family bible a promise to revenge his loss?

With what emotions does Tom obey? (eager to do so)

Why isn’t Maggie asked to make a similar promise? How does she respond to this? (protests)

What is the significance of recording such a promise in the bible? (sacrilegious; reflects seriousness and bindingness of promise)

How would Eliot have critiqued this action? How will his actions and attitudes affect the later fate of his children?

At this point in the plot, what problems have arisen? What outcome do you predict for them?