Mr. Tulliver comes downstairs for the first time since his injury. The family isn’t sure how or when to tell him that Mr. Wakem has bought the mill and intends to employ Mr. Tulliver as his manager. The aunts and uncles think this is a good arrangement, as it will allow Mr. Tulliver to support the family again, but Mrs. Tulliver despairs of ever overcoming her husband’s stubbornness and hatred of Wakem. As he talks with Maggie and Tom, Mr. Tulliver appears lost in the past, confusing events from several years ago with the present.
Mr. Tulliver's inflexibility and intolerance continue to sabotage his ability to protect his family. As the aunts and uncles point out, Mr. Wakem’s offer is actually a generous one, since it allows the family to stay at the mill and live in their ancestral home. However, Mr. Tulliver’s continued hatred of Mr. Wakem prevents him from seeing this silver lining—where another person might see an opportunity, Mr. Tulliver sees only another attempt to humiliate him.
Maggie and Tom tell Mr. Tulliver that he is now a bankrupt, but Tom promises to pay back all his debts one day. Mr. Tulliver predicts bitterly that he will not live to see it, although he hopes that at least he’s given his soon “a good eddication.” Mrs. Tulliver then breaks the news that Wakem has bought the mill and land, and Mr. Tulliver must work for him. Hearing this, Mr. Tulliver seems utterly defeated, telling her that “we shall never be young again.”
Mr. Tulliver’s comment to Mrs. Tulliver suggests that he compares the happy, promising days of their youth unfavorably to their present circumstances. At the same time, Mr. Tulliver places his hope in the next generation, and particularly in his son’s “good eddication.” Unfortunately, however, Mr. Tulliver has not given Tom the practical education he needs to succeed.