Maggie and Tom’s relationship defines the novel. The beginning of the novel starts with the focus on both Tom and Maggie, even more towards Tom, but by the end of the novel, Maggie is the center. However, despite Maggie being the main focus, she is still concerned with Tom and what he thinks of her. With each fight, comes a tragic event, forcing the siblings to come together thus placing an importance of family by the author.
Maggie always tries to please Tom, and cares heavily for what he thinks about her. Their first interaction in the novel reveals this. When Tom tells Maggie to guess what is in his pockets, she guesses marbles and her “heart sank a little because Tom always said it was ‘no good’ playing with her at those games—she played so badly” (33). This also shows how hard Tom is on Maggie. Marbles should be a game where each person can have fun without caring how they are playing, especially at this age. If it isn’t revealed how harsh he is here, it sure does when she tells Tom she forgot to feed the rabbits. He says: “I don’t love you” and she says, “my heart will break” as she is “shaking with sobs” where he shakes her off. Her burst of emotion does not phase him, and he continues to torture her by listing off certain woes when he is such a good brother to her (36). The toxic relationship continues until they are brought together by the family’s bankruptcy: “They had gone forth together into their new life of sorrow…the golden gates of their childhood had forever closed behind them “ (191). This begins a pattern in the novel. Though Maggie and Tom fight, the author reminds us they are still family and able to come together in times of trouble.
After Tom figures out that Maggie has been seeing Phillip in the woods, he is furious. Of course, Maggie is very conflicted because she knew all along this would displease her father, but more importantly, Tom. He threatens to tell her father if she does not cut off communication with Phillip. Again, he is very harsh with her: “I don’t wish to hear anything of your feelings… Do what I require… I can’t trust you, Maggie. There is no consistency with you” (343). After they tell Phillip, Maggie lashes out at Tom. She says, “Don’t suppose I think you are right, Tom, or that I bow to your will” but with his harsh response, she immediately backs down: “I know I’ve been wrong” (347). Tom is urging Maggie to do what he thinks is the right thing, yet Maggie, knowing the consequences if people find out, still thinks what she’s doing is right also. They are always at odds. At the end of this book, however, they are again brought together by their father’s death. At this point, Tom is fed up with Maggie’s emotions. Tom stresses family loyalty, which leads the reader to believe he is in the right. Though the reader understands both sides, they are again brought together, making them one again, blurring the separation of feelings between the two.
After Maggie goes in the boat with Stephen, Tom has his mind “set” (483). The “worst” has happened — “not death, disgrace” (483). He sends her away from his home, even though she promises to “endure anything” and “be kept from doing wrong again” (485). He is done with Maggie at this point. He is really not heard from until the end when Maggie comes for him in the boat. Then, they are brought together in death— “In their death they were not divided” as written on their gravestone (522). Not only is Tom over Maggie’s emotions, he is now frustrated with her actions. Before when she went off with Phillip in woods, nobody knew, but everybody finds out about the situation with Stephen—which affects him. Before now, Tom has felt that he had a say over Maggie but he has given up because the damage is done. Though Eliot suggests Maggie can recover mentally, Tom cannot. The quote shows this, it is the worst thing that could happen. The only thing Eliot could do is kill them because this is the only way they could be brought together again.
The pattern of Maggie and Tom coming together after what seems to be the worst Maggie has done each time reveals the importance Eliot places of family. Maggie and Tom are never fully separated because they are siblings. Their relationship defines the novel because it is almost as if Eliot writes something tragic into the novel so that Maggie and Tom can be brought together again. This seems to suggest they would not do it on their own, but rather their environment is the only thing keeping them together. Family is the only thing people have as a constant in their life, especially in this time, and each tragic event shows how important it is that they do come together. Since they are always at odds, Eliot has always posed them as opposites, even playing each other’s role (Maggie as having “manly” qualities; Tom as having “womanly qualities”) at times all seems to reveal that they complete each other and need each other, also reinforcing the importance placed on family.