Adam Bede By George Eliot Summary and Analysis Book II: Chapter 21

Summary

Adam arrives at Bartle Massey's school and waits until the evening's lessons are over. Bartle's students are boys and men of the town to whom he imparts some elementary skills in reading, writing, and "cal'clating"; the author gives humorous portraits of several of them.

Adam and Bartle go into the latter's house. A dog with two puppies greets them. The dog, Vixen, is apparently Bartle's "woman"; he is a confirmed old bachelor who loves to rail at the follies of women, and Vixen is the only female with whom he will associate. Most of the conversation centers on women, Adam defending and Bartle execrating them. The schoolmaster then tells Adam that the Squire's steward has had a stroke. This man had managed the woods belonging to the estate, and Bartle feels that the job will now be offered to Adam. Adam doubts it; he and the old squire had a misunderstanding two years before. Bartle says that Arthur will use his influence to get Adam the job and he counsels Adam not to turn it down out of pride. Adam replies that he'll take this advice into account if the job ever is offered, and the two friends part.

Analysis

Bartle Massey, though he appears late in the novel, plays a fairly large role in the ensuing action. He almost seems to be an afterthought on Eliot's part; he is hardly mentioned until Chapter 20.

It is difficult to categorize Bartle. He possesses the "hobby-horse" mentality of the flat character; most of his conversation concerns itself with the evil of women. But he can also be gentle to his struggling students, and he is proud of the part he has played in developing Adam's mind. All in all, Bartle reminds one of some of Dickens' more successful comic figures — Mr. Micawber, for example. He is funny, he is vivid, he is exaggerated; but at the same time he is human enough to arouse the reader's sympathetic interest.

Bartle functions to some extent as a father-figure to Adam. Note that he gives advice to Adam, and that Adam is ready to take his advice seriously. Bartle also understands Adam well, as he shows when he warns him against allowing his pride to interfere with his judgment. Bartle's own pride has isolated him from the opposite sex, and he serves as a sort of object lesson to Adam on the subject of human sympathy.

Adam's opinion of Arthur is as exalted as Arthur's of him; here he characterizes the young squire as having "a will to do right." The statement is, of course, ironic from the reader's point of view; he knows by this point that Arthur is constantly flying in the face of his own conscience. The remark thus serves another purpose as well; it reemphasizes Adam's confusion. Adam misjudges Arthur as badly as he does Hetty. As is often the case with strictly honest people, he thinks everyone is honest. Adam gets into difficulties partially because he takes people at face value.

The portraits of the three students are an example of the mixing of local color and comic relief. Note that they have nothing to do with the plot but are ends in themselves, calculated to please and divert the reader and to fill the novel's background in more solidly.

Book II is devoted to bringing the triangle which provides most of the action in Adam Bede to full development. Dinah drops out of sight while the links between Arthur, Adam, and Hetty are strengthened and the pressures within the three-sided relationship begin to mount. In Book I, Eliot had focused primarily upon the flirtation between Arthur and Hetty; now she turns her attention to Adam. The obstacles which had prevented Adam from considering marriage fall away: his father is gone, he sees the opportunity for securing a lucrative new job at the Chase, and he begins to feel that Hetty loves him. Amid a welter of confusion of motives, a conflict between Arthur and Adam becomes more imminent as both men approach Hetty simultaneously. By the end of Book II, Eliot has set the stage for the novel's central conflict.

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