Adam Bede By George Eliot Summary and Analysis Book VI: Chapters 51-52

Summary

Dinah goes back to the farm that evening, but not before Lisbeth has probed her with questions about Adam. Lisbeth tells Seth that she thinks Dinah loves Adam, but Seth tells her to forget about trying to bring them together; as far as he can see, Adam feels nothing but fraternal affection for Dinah.

Lisbeth is not to be so easily discouraged, though; on Sunday morning, she tells Adam that Dinah would be his for the asking. He doubts the truth of her perception, but, at the same time, he recognizes his real love for Dinah and is filled with a new hope. He hesitates to abandon himself to his feelings, however: Seth might still have hopes of winning Dinah's hand, and Adam doesn't want to oppose his brother. But Seth assures him that he is resigned to the fact that Dinah will never accept him, and he encourages Adam to propose. Adam resolves to take the step that very afternoon.

When Adam gets to the farm, Dinah is at home alone. After a few moments, Adam overcomes his shyness and declares that he loves her above any other creature. Dinah replies in kind; her main reason for deciding to go away, in fact, was her fear that her love for Adam would divert her from the performance of her duty among the poor. Adam tries to persuade her to stay but in vain: Dinah cannot be sure that giving in to him would not be giving in to temptation. She is afraid that she would be turning away from Christ for Adam's sake, and she is determined to be faithful to her calling as a preacher and consoler of the afflicted. But even though she won't change her mind about leaving, Dinah does hold out one hope: If she is discontented in her work at Snowfield, she says, then she will know that God intends her to return and marry Adam. Adam has no choice but to accept these conditions.

The couple walk out into the fields and meet the rest of the family on their way back from church. Some light talk is exchanged, and the author ends the chapter with a panegyric on old-fashioned leisure.

Analysis

In Chapter 51, for the first and only time in the novel, Lisbeth directly affects the course of events. She has functioned heretofore as a background character, helping to provide atmosphere but doing and saying nothing of importance for the development of the plot. It is unusual for such a character to suddenly be given a central part to play in the story line — note that similar figures like Mrs. Poyser and Bartle Massey never attain this status. But Eliot needed someone to "enlighten" Adam, and Lisbeth is perfect for the role. Her words to Adam are the culmination of a whole pattern of references to her opinion of Dinah; these references form another example of foreshadowing within the plot.

The closeness of the brothers, something which Eliot mentions now and again throughout the novel, is given strong emphasis here; far from being jealous of Adam, Seth is prepared to take joy in his brother's happiness. Through his religion and his mild manner, Seth is associated with Dinah, and it would be imaginatively unsatisfying to create a situation in which approaching the one would entail a break with the other. Adam's affection for Seth is an early indication that Adam may eventually fall in love with a woman with a similar personality, and Eliot ties up this pattern by harmonizing the three characters in this chapter.

Adam's realization that his love for Dinah is not merely fraternal is rather sudden, and the preparation for it strikes one as being somewhat artificial. The denseness which Adam displays during his conversation with his mother seems almost coy; Adam is normally not so slow at grasping a point. But it is in keeping with his single-minded nature; Adam, we are told, has quietly resumed his work and has buried himself in practical affairs. Lisbeth's suggestion releases a flow of feeling which he had categorically considered permanently blocked, and he discovers that his urge to love a woman, far from being destroyed, has increased during the time of his sorrow. Once again Eliot emphasizes the healthy effects of suffering; it enlarges the soul, making (in this case) a good man even better.

Dinah's hesitation in accepting Adam's proposal is perfectly in keeping with her character. Note how the author begins the movement which ends in the mutual confession of love; through Lisbeth she identifies Dinah as an angel. Unlimited praise is showered on Dinah in these chapters. With a conscientiousness which the modern reader may find annoyingly pious but which Eliot obviously admires above all things, Dinah struggles to overcome her own feelings. Her devotion to God and her humility before Him are so strong that she will not take any step if the possibility exists that in doing so she would be opposing His will. Even though her love for Adam is strong, her first concern is her duty.

Eliot creates Dinah as the archetype of the humble person; note how strongly she emphasizes her desire to avoid being selfish. She is a walking illustration of the ideal at which Eliot's value system aims. A human being like Dinah, one who considers not what she wants to do but what she should do, will never make a rash decision which can involve her and others in a remorseful chain of consequences. She can never directly cause pain, and she will take whatever opportunity arises to alleviate it. Her humility before her own conscience and before God or the nature of reality will make her as morally perfect as a human being can be. It is on such principles that the character of Dinah is founded, as is clear not only in these chapters but throughout the novel. If she sometimes strikes the reader as unrealistic, it is because she is the embodiment of an idea, a standard by which Eliot implies that we should judge ourselves.

The idyllic nature of this final love affair of the novel has emerged pretty clearly by this point. Although there is some misunderstanding involved in the relationship, it is quickly cleared up, and in these chapters the two young people face one another honestly. There is no pretense of any kind. Both Adam and Dinah react to their love rationally, as mature people. And, most important, both are completely unselfish. Eliot goes to great lengths to indicate that Adam values Dinah's happiness more than his own; he is even prepared to accept her rejection of his proposal with benevolent resignation if she is determined not to marry, and Dinah, of course, is more interested in obeying God's will than in satisfying her own desires. The love relationship is set up as a direct contrast to that between Hetty and Arthur: Whereas what they called love was compounded of vanity, egotism, and physical attraction, this love is a true meeting of souls, a bond which, as Eliot puts it, possesses the serenity and the warmth of quiet sunshine.

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