It is the Christmas holidays, and Mr. Tulliver is increasingly furious at a neighbor, Mr. Pivart, who plans to irrigate his lands further up the river, supposedly stealing some of Mr. Tulliver’s share of water power for his mill. Mr. Tulliver suspects that Mr. Pivart’s lawyer, Wakem, put Mr. Pivart up to it. Mr. Tulliver is particular enraged at Wakem because he has recently had to take out a loan from one of Wakem’s clients, and because Wakem represented the other side in a recent legal dispute about building a bridge on Mr. Tulliver’s property.
One of Mr. Tulliver’s most prominent character traits is his strong conviction that his neighbors are trying to infringe on his rights—hence his constant “going to law” and initiating lawsuits over matters of property management. This tendency towards intolerance and grudge-holding leads to escalation of disputes, like the conflict with Mr. Pivart and Mr. Wakem, that might have been more easily resolved had Mr. Tulliver not been so stubborn and combative.
Mrs. Tulliver tells Mrs. Moss that she has begged Mr. Tulliver not to “go to law” with Mr. Pivart. As this dispute unfolds, the Tullivers learn that Wakem is also sending his son to school with Tom, to study with Mr. Stelling. Despite his rage at Wakem, Mr. Tulliver is secretly pleased that his son will have the same advantages as the son of a lawyer.
Despite his hatred of the Wakems, Mr. Tulliver is still pleased that Tom will have the same education as a lawyer’s son. Indeed, this seems to validate Mr. Tulliver in his choice of tutor, suggesting that he closely associates knowledge and education with class status and social opportunity. Of course, what he fails to realize is that his son is receiving a narrow education that lacks any of the practical skills (like bookkeeping) that Tom will need to succeed in the business world.