Adam Bede By George Eliot Summary and Analysis Book I: Chapter 2

Summary

The traveler who had noticed Adam Bede stops at the village inn and speaks with the innkeeper, Mr. Casson, learning that Dinah is to preach. Curious, he goes to the green to observe. The townspeople of Hayslope — only two of whom are Methodists — gather in knots near the Green but stay aloof from the proceedings; they feel, in general, that Methodism is an overly emotional and overly strict form of religion.

Dinah appears. She is young and delicately pretty, and is marked by "total absence of self-consciousness." Dinah proves to be a very effective preacher, drawing tears from some of her hearers and influencing one young woman to cast away her cheap earrings. Her sermon emphasizes God's love for and mercy towards sinners, and the rewards awaiting the good in heaven. The sermon ends, the traveler moves on, and the hills echo with the Methodists' singing.

Analysis

Dinah's style of preaching is typical of what the eighteenth century called the "enthusiastic" approach to religion. The sermon is highly emotional and personal; rather than discussing doctrine in the abstract, Dinah emphasizes her hearers' relationship to Christ. She makes them ashamed of their disloyalty through sin to their crucified Savior and brings them to repentance by concentrating upon the strength of Christ's love for them.

Dinah's preaching is effective primarily because it is sincere. When she first begins to speak, the townspeople are skeptical and suspicious, but Dinah is able to touch their hearts. This is a major element in Dinah's characterization; her influence over the other characters is primarily the influence of personality and good example. Time and time again, Dinah's presence alone is enough to soothe others and set them on the right track; her influence is almost magical.

It is difficult at first sight to assign a motive for the sudden appearance of the man on horseback in view of the fact that he appears only once more in the novel and plays an extremely minor role even then. Eliot seems to be striving for perspective; she wants her readers to view the scene on the village green not from the point of view of one of the participants but from that of an uninvolved spectator. This point of view has the effect of placing the reader at a distance from the action; the meeting, the village, the surrounding countryside are spread out like a panorama. Setting and characters here blend into a harmonious whole, and the reader, surveying the scene with the unnamed horseman, is impressed with its solidity and realism. The horseman represents the audience; as he looks on objectively, so do we.

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