Adam Bede By George Eliot Summary and Analysis Book VI: Chapters 54-55

Summary

When Dinah has been gone for six weeks, Adam begins to grow impatient, and he decides to go to Snowfield in search of her. When he arrives, Dinah is off preaching in the next town. Adam rides to the top of a hill overlooking the town and waits to intercept Dinah on her way home.

After an hour's wait, Adam sees Dinah mounting the hill towards him. She draws near without seeing him, and, as she stops to look back at the hamlet she has left, Adam comes up behind her and calls her name. She turns and comes to him, saying that it is God's will that they be together.

Dinah and Adam are married a month later. All who know them are supremely happy, and there is general harmony in Hayslope.

Analysis

The scene in which Adam watches Dinah slowly mount the hill towards him is one of the most vivid in the whole novel. It is not suspenseful, though one of Eliot's motives in setting the incident up in this way may have been to create suspense; the reader by this point is certain that Dinah will not reject Adam. The real power of the scene lies in the feeling of pastoral peace which it communicates. The author stages the lovers' meeting outside and emphasizes the fact that no other living being is near. All is silence until Adam calls Dinah's name and the two exchange a few words. Then the young people are in harmony with each other and with nature, and there is no jarring note in all the world around.

Eliot emphasizes the emotional continuity of Adam's experience in order to show for the last time that suffering is a teacher, that we learn and profit by our mistakes, that the encounter with evil ends in wisdom. When Adam is on the way to Snowfield, he remembers having passed over the same road after Hetty's trial and sees that his sorrow has strengthened him to love Dinah better. In the course of the novel, Adam has become a realist by Eliot's standards; no longer a young man who feels he can work out all problems, he sees that life has its negative aspect and that one must live in the recognition of that aspect. At his wedding, "there was a tinge of sadness in his deep joy"; Adam's experience has taught him to see life whole, as a process in which good and evil are inextricably mixed. For Eliot, there are no moral absolute of the sort discussed in the Analysis to Chapter 17 but only ways of avoiding suffering and of dealing with it when one cannot avoid it. This is why she creates so complex and ambiguous a world in her plot and characters; she strives to teach her readers that reality is not something which can be fit into a simple formula, but rather a series of experiences through which one must guide oneself in a practical way in order to attain happiness.

Although Eliot's view involves struggle and pain, it is not depressing in the final analysis. She implies that man can reach a state of modified serenity and qualified joy if he works at it. If one considers the objective conditions of human life, the holding out of this much hope must seem optimistic. Eliot says not only that man can be happy, but that the means for attaining happiness lie within himself rather than in chance or in circumstances beyond his control. This vision imposes responsibility upon the individual, but it is a meaningful and a hopeful one.

Appearance and reality finally merge with the marriage of Adam and Dinah. They appear happy and they are; they appear responsible and they are. They understand each other perfectly, and the harmony they have found in their love is based upon a total communication. The culmination of this realistic love represents the triumph of the humble attitude, the attitude which Dinah always had and which Adam has acquired. As Adam says in Chapter 54, "other folks were not created for my sake." This marriage is a union in which each partner will attain happiness through working for the happiness of the other.

So ends Book VI. The function of this section of the novel is not particularly clear. It serves one thematic purpose in that it provides a lengthy illustration of the one good consequence of the original affair:

Adam has become more loving and more loveable as a result of his experiences. But this point has been made dramatically in the closing chapters of Book V, and it seems extravagant to add another section to an already lengthy novel simply in order to restate it.

Eliot may have had another purpose. It is clear that from the very beginning she intended to bring Adam and Dinah together, and a sixth book is almost required if this development is to be given proper emphasis. She may also have felt the need to "humanize" Dinah. It must have been obvious to a writer of Eliot's talent that Dinah is an unrealistic figure; she does not have even the minor faults of the novel's other moral standard, Mr. Irwine. Here Eliot puts her through a struggle which demonstrates that she does have normal human drives and has her turn away from her purely idealistic life plan to a more realistic alternative.

But the attempt to make Dinah more human (if it is an attempt to do so) fails; Dinah's devotion to duty is insisted upon so heavily that even in marrying Adam she emerges more as an angel than as a woman. This has the most serious consequences for the theme of Adam Bede. The novel's ending has often been attacked because in a very real sense it undermines the message of the rest of the novel. Adam, in the course of his experiences with Hetty and Arthur, has learned to accept limitations in himself and in others; this pattern in the development of his character is very clear. But in Book VI, Eliot gives him, as a sort of reward for having learned his lesson, a perfect woman. It is a flat contradiction. Instead of accepting limitations in others, Adam marries a woman who has no faults, no weaknesses to accept. Instead of accepting limitations in his own situation (except for the minor "tinge of sadness" intermixed with his joy), Adam ends up in an ideal situation; his marriage has no negative side because Dinah has no negative side. The difficulty clearly lies with the characterization of Dinah. It almost seems as if in creating her, the author lost sight of her essential doctrine. She preaches realism but makes the goal of her hero's search an ideal. It is a strange reversal; the contrived "happy ending" of the novel contradicts, or at best ignores, the point of its crisis.

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