Adam Bede By George Eliot Summary and Analysis Book II: Chapter 20

Summary

When Adam comes home from work, his mother is her usual querulous self, but he brushes off her complaints and declares that he must he left free to do what he thinks is right.

He puts on his best clothes and goes to the Hall Farm, where he encounters Mrs. Poyser. She tells him that Hetty is in the garden with Totty and asks him to go and send the child in. Adam does so and then looks for Hetty. He comes upon her unawares and startles her; she blushes, and Adam takes this as a sign of love. It is a "sweet delusion," though; Hetty is thinking of Arthur. There is a lot of misunderstanding in the ensuing conversation; Adam tells Hetty of Arthur's plan to lend him money so that she will have a favorable view of his own prospects, but Hetty is interested in the information only because it relates to Arthur. He plucks a rose for her and Hetty puts it in her hair. Adam disapproves of this mark of vanity and says so; he maintains that Dinah's extremely plain style of dress is "very nice."

They go into the house and Hetty goes upstairs while Adam socializes with the Poysers. Mrs. Poyser is angry with one of the maids for breaking some crockery until, suddenly, she drops a jug herself. She has been startled by the appearance of Hetty in one of her aunt's dresses and acts as if she's seen a ghost. After a few comments on Hetty's joke, the talk moves to other topics. Adam mentions his scheme for a second business and Mr. Poyser approves of it. Finally Adam leaves to visit Bartle Massey, the village schoolmaster.

Analysis

The focus in this chapter is on Adam's misunderstanding of Hetty. While they pick currants together, Hetty's thoughts are almost entirely on Arthur, but Adam takes her softened manner as indicating that she has begun to love him. Adam is so blindly in love with Hetty that he cannot really see her faults; when she puts the rose in her hair, he disapproves of her "love of finery" but almost immediately dismisses the matter. Because he believes Hetty to be a sweet young girl, he cannot recognize her extreme vanity.

Adam's situation is ironic because while he is lost in admiration of Hetty's beauty, the reader can see what a complete mismatch the two are. Once again Eliot is working with the appearance-reality motif, and she returns to it again later in the chapter when Hetty appears in the dark dress that makes her resemble Dinah. The identity switch is dramatic in that it points up how far from the truth Adam's vision of Hetty is. No one could be less like Dinah than Hetty; Mrs. Poyser knows this, and her reaction to the sudden apparition is violent. But Adam is not disturbed; because he sees Hetty in a false light, the contrast does not strike him. Eliot here, in one symbolic scene, gives us a vivid representation of how confused the normally clear-sighted Adam is.

The scene also serves to remind us of Dinah, of course. Dinah is out of the way through a good part of the novel, but the author does not allow us to forget her. Here, by referring to her in a situation in which Adam is pursuing a wrong romantic interest, and setting up a contrast between her and Hetty, she indicates where Adam's romantic interest should really tend.

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