The Dodson aunts and uncles arrive at the Tulliver house to consult about the family. Mrs. Pullet and Mrs. Deane promise to buy some of Mrs. Tulliver’s linen and china in order to keep it in the family, but Mrs. Glegg protests that they should be talking about more pressing financial needs. She warns Mrs. Tulliver that she is now entirely dependent on her family for everything and should be “humble.” Furthermore, Mrs. Glegg demands that Maggie and Tom should come into the room as well, so that they can also humble themselves and know that they should be grateful to their relatives.
The Dodson sisters display a notable lack of sympathy and compassion for the misfortune of their family members. Rather than supporting the Tullivers in their time of need, they self-righteously feel that the bankruptcy is a moral failing on the part of Mr. and Mrs. Tulliver. Although she agrees to help, Mrs. Glegg demands that Tom and Maggie should be “humble,” using this moment to assert her power over her now-poor relatives rather than freely offering them love and assistance.
Mrs. Tulliver continues to beg her sisters to buy her monogrammed china, since she hates the idea of her initials going out into the world outside the family. The aunts and uncles tell Tom that he must work hard now and use his education. Tom points out, however, that if they plan to support him and Maggie, it might be better for them just to pay the debt now and save his mother from the humiliation of losing her furniture. When the aunts refuse, Maggie stands up and tells them she doesn’t want any of their money, if they are going to be so unkind to their family in a time of need.
Tom points out that it makes more sense for his aunts and uncles to simply give the family money now to save them from having to sell their furniture, rather than promising financial support in the future. This is a sound argument, and the aunts’ refusal suggests that they are not motivated by compassion and the desire to help. Instead, they plan to use the promise of financial support as a way of controlling and subjugating the Tulliver family.
Just then, Mrs. Moss arrives. She tells the family that she is very sorry for her brother and wishes she could pay back the three hundred pounds she owes him—but she and her husband would lose everything if they did that, and she worries for her eight children. Mr. Glegg points out that if Mr. Tulliver goes bankrupt, they will be obliged to pay the money anyway. Tom says that he doesn’t want to take money from Mrs. Moss, because he knew that his father would never want to impoverish his sister, and Tom wants to respect his father’s wishes. He thus decides to destroy the note proving that Mr. Tulliver ever lent any money to Mrs. Moss, in order to protect her from the creditors.
Mrs. Moss, who is impoverished, has a notably more compassionate response to the Tulliver bankruptcy than the Dodson sisters, who are wealthy. This suggests that wealth does not necessarily make one more generous and compassionate. Similarly, in this moment of dire need, the Tullivers continue to show kindness and compassion towards those less fortunate than themselves. By destroying the note, Tom makes it impossible that Mrs. Moss will ever repay the borrowed money, prioritizing her well-being over financial gain.