Adam Bede By George Eliot Summary and Analysis Book V: Chapter 48

Summary

The next evening, Adam is walking through the grove at the Chase. Adam though still sad, has reconciled himself to accepting his fate, but he and the Poysers have decided, out of shame, to move away from their homes on the estate.

Adam and Arthur meet by chance in the grove and go to the Hermitage to talk. Arthur has been sobered by sorrow and announces that he is joining the army; he knows that Adam and the Poysers are leaving because of him, and he feels that he should be the one to go. He asks Adam to stay and to persuade the others to stay; there's no point, he says, in making a bad situation worse. Adam is inclined to be cold and unforgiving at first, but then he relents. They shake hands and feel a return of some of their old mutual affection.

Adam asks about Hetty. Though freed from the death sentence, she is to be transported (exiled). Arthur praises Dinah for helping Hetty and gives Adam a watch to give to Dinah. Adam promises to stay on the estate, and the two men shake hands again and part.

Analysis

Eliot starts Adam on the road to a new life in Chapters 42 and 43 and "saves" Hetty in Chapters 45 and 46. Here she completes the conversion of Adam and reorients Arthur; the cycle which began at the start of the novel is completed.

It is clear from Arthur's words and actions that he is a changed man. No longer flamboyant, he wears black and his manner is subdued and gentle. Like Hetty, he has become fully aware of the error of his ways and is no longer inclined either to dodge his responsibilities or to vacillate in his resolutions. Arthur has accepted the irrevocability of his wrongdoing and now sees himself as he really is; there is no more pretense and deceit, but only sincerity. (The same applies to Hetty, as we have seen. Thus Eliot closes the appearance-reality theme with respect to these characters. At last they are what they seem). Finally — and most important — Arthur is more concerned about other people than about himself: He is willing to leave his beloved estate and bury himself in the army in order to save the Bedes and the Poysers from further pain.

An even greater emphasis is laid on Adam's development; Eliot spends proportionately much more space explaining his reactions than Arthur's, and his inner struggle is much more vividly dramatized. Adam, like the Poysers, is still reacting defensively at the beginning of the chapter; both want to leave the estate in order to maintain their reputations as honorable people. Also, Adam has still not learned to forgive; he has resigned himself to "bear the unalterable," and he is keeping his violent passions in check, but a complete humility of the sort Arthur has attained still eludes him. In the conversation here, he finds that humility. For the Poysers' sake, he agrees to stay and to accept employment from a man who has injured him; for Arthur's sake, he relents, forgives, and shakes hands. The setting in the grove is symbolic. When he and Arthur had last met there, Adam had been violent, intolerant, determined to have his own way. Now he shows the opposite qualities; he has matured. By implication, according to the theory proposed earlier, the "natural" man has become civilized. Adam has learned that the way to perfection lies through self-control and love, not through aggression and self-righteousness. When he thinks of going back to work, he thinks of doing so not to boost his ego but because "it's right."

The changes in each character's attitude, Eliot makes clear, come about through suffering. Suffering is the great teacher of practical wisdom. Mr. Irwine and Dinah already recognize the nature of reality, but Adam, Hetty, and Arthur must obtain this knowledge through suffering. The progression works as follows: through suffering one becomes acquainted with the existence and the effects of irremediable evil; the realization of the existence of irremediable evil makes one humble since it becomes obvious that one cannot completely control one's own fate. This humility results in sympathy, as one realizes that every human being is in the same predicament, and love, as one strives to avoid being the cause of suffering in others. Note that both Adam and Arthur react with instinctive sympathy to marks of suffering in the other. Suffering teaches most people what Mr. Irwine knows in theory and what Dinah knows by nature. Adam Bede is written in the hope that the reader will learn from the novel what suffering will otherwise inevitably teach him: that caution and moral realism are necessary if one is to be happy. Eliot hopes to change her readers' lives before bitter experience does.

In this chapter, Arthur and Adam concentrate upon ending the series of consequences; suffering has taught them that only through love can the evil caused by a rash act be brought to an end. If the evil is to be ended, the people who have been affected by it must simply absorb it and do good to others in spite of it. So the action has come full circle. The chain of events which began in egotism and passion ends, realistically, by an exercise of the intellect and an act of will. If Adam and the Poysers had moved away, the bad consequences would simply have been extended another step. They stay, and the chain reaction is halted. The only consequence which remains is that Adam, Arthur, and Hetty have become better people.

Thus Eliot works out her reconciliation and her moral philosophy. The central action of the novel — the love affair and its consequences — has been completed, and the set of ideas which that action illustrates has been completely set forth. The two characters who caused the problem are in exile, one involuntarily through a sentence to transportation and the other voluntarily in the army, and the third member of the fateful triangle has stabilized and is as content as possible under the circumstances. Mostly through the efforts and example of Mr. Irwine and Dinah (whose influence on Arthur is stressed in this chapter) all the characters have learned their lessons and are at peace with themselves and with others.

Book V resolves the conflicts, both physical and mental, which the rest of the novel has developed. In this section, Eliot brings the action to a climax and works out the basic effects of that climax on her principal characters. Although there are still some loose ends in the plot to tie together, Book V closes on a general note of finality. Chaos has been reduced to order and division to harmony, and all the basic situations and issues upon which the novel is based have been settled.

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