Summary and Analysis
Book I: Chapters 14-15
While Hetty is parting with Arthur, Dinah is taking her leave of the Bedes. When she and Seth are gone, Adam and his mother talk about her. Lisbeth approves of Dinah so much that she hints that Adam ought to marry her, but Adam ignores her.
Dinah and Seth, meanwhile, encounter Hetty on her way back from the Chase. Seth turns back, and the two women go on towards the Hall Farm together. Dinah tries to get Hetty to talk about Adam to find out if she returns Adam's affection, but to no avail. Hetty's thoughts are all of Arthur.
When they arrive at the farm, Mr. and Mrs. Poyser are sitting up with Totty, who is ill. Some talk of the Bedes passes; Mr. Poyser praises Adam as a reliable young man, and Mrs. Poyser dispenses some of her usual practical wisdom. Totty becomes restless, and Mrs. Poyser asks Hetty to take her upstairs. The child refuses to go to Hetty, though, and Mrs. Poyser suggests that Dinah take her. Totty very willingly goes to Dinah, and everyone retires for the night.
First we follow Hetty into her bedroom. The girl, full of romantic notions about Arthur, sets about her favorite occupation. She puts on the earrings and other bits of finery that she keeps hidden away and admires herself in the mirror. She imagines herself married to Arthur and paces about the room like her conception of a great lady.
The author then breaks her narrative to launch into a long analysis of the relationship between goodness and beauty. She says that men are often deceived by a pretty face into thinking that the owner of it is good. On this subject, she insists, all that glitters is definitely not gold.
The scene then shifts to Dinah's bedroom. While Hetty has been primping, Dinah has been sitting in the twilight thinking of God, of the poor people at Snowfield to whom she is to return in the morning, and her friends in Hayslope. She hears a sound from Hetty's room, and this starts her thinking about the girl. She knows Hetty is cold and selfish, and she is moved to try to help her. Dinah goes to Hetty's room and assures her that if she ever gets in trouble, she should feel free to contact her. Instead of being grateful for this consideration, Hetty is frightened at the mere mention of future pain and tells Dinah to go away. Dinah sadly complies and prays for Hetty; Hetty, falling asleep, dreams of Arthur.
Even though very little happens in these chapters, some important issues are raised. Perhaps the most obvious of all is the Hetty-Dinah contrast mentioned earlier. The contrast is so very obvious in the bedroom scenes in Chapter 15 that one is tempted to accuse Eliot of sentimentality. All that Hetty does reveals her vanity and immaturity; all that Dinah does reveals her serenity and goodness. The cards are stacked so heavily against Hetty that the two women almost degenerate from human figures into personifications of Saint and Sinner. The black-and-white quality of the contrast is enhanced by its setting. The alignment of Hetty and Dinah in adjoining bedrooms is certainly far from subtle.
The description of Hetty is obviously calculated to expose her vanity. The author describes Hetty's primping before the mirror as a religious rite, calling it "her peculiar form of worship." The tone of this borders on sadism as Hetty is held up to the reader as a blind worshipper of her own ego, a completely selfish girl.
Note also that Hetty loses herself in fantasies of luxury; again, she seems less interested in Arthur himself than in what he can give her. Her visions of the future are not very precise "but of every picture she is the central figure in fine clothes." Here, with fine economy of diction, Eliot exposes the core of Hetty's dream-world; not only is she to become a lady, but her position is to be "central." She now feels that Arthur will eventually marry her, but she does not so much project herself as his wife as she projects him as her husband. Hetty does not see Arthur as the superior figure to whom she will devote herself; she rather sees herself as receiving devotion. No small part in her fantasy is played by those who will stand about "admiring and envying" her.
After showing Hetty indulging in this orgy of selfishness and adding that beauty is not always a sign of goodness, the author turns to Dinah and we go from one extreme to the other. Dinah sits by her window and thinks not of herself but of God and her neighbor. Her heart goes out to the people of Hayslope with whom she is about to part, and she pities them for the troubles they will have to endure in life. Clearly, Dinah is as unselfish as Hetty is selfish, and the author reinforces the point (if it needs reinforcing) by having Dinah go to Hetty's room out of tenderness for her and having Hetty spurn her aid.
The digression in the middle of Chapter 15 is the obvious manifestation of the appearance-reality theme in the novel. The author here makes explicit what she has earlier implied: People very often are not what they seem.
Eliot also keeps alive another established theme. At the beginning of Chapter 14, Lisbeth implies that Adam should consider Dinah for a wife, and in Chapter 15, she says that Dinah "shared Seth's anxious interest in his brother's lot." By planting these small details, she keeps the possibility of an eventual romance between Adam and Dinah before the reader's mind.
One very important philosophical issue is raised. We have spoken here and there of the notion of controlling one's own fate, of the impermanence of human plans, of the force of blind circumstance. Here Eliot begins to formulate an idea which is central to understanding the novel: that man, in order to be happy, must recognize the existence of forces which he cannot control and must work consciously within the context of these forces. When Hetty becomes frightened and asks Dinah why she foresees trouble in her (Hetty's) life, Dinah responds at length. She tells Hetty that trouble comes to us all, that sickness and death inescapably oppress us, that we harm both ourselves and others by doing wrong. Dinah has faced the inevitability of human suffering and is always prepared to deal with it. It is clear that Hetty has not, and neither has Arthur.
But the most significant element to be noted in these chapters is the psychological method Eliot employs in characterizing Hetty and Dinah. We mentioned in connection with Chapter 9 that Eliot uses the omniscient viewpoint to probe the minds of her characters; here we have an even more striking illustration of the practice. We are told not only what the women do, but what they think; the personality patterns which underlie their behavior are examined at length.
This method is pursued throughout the novel. Eliot does not merely show us, for example, that Arthur seduces Hetty, nor does she content herself with a few superficial remarks on the pair's motivations. Rather she explains that Arthur gives in to temptation because he does not know himself, and that Hetty allows herself to be deceived because she is naive and vain. We see both the mental and physical elements in the characters' behavior and thus come to know these characters completely. Eliot, through extensive analysis, presents personality and behavior in great depth and with great subtlety.
The method is obviously a development in the direction of realism. There is so much authorial comment in Adam Bede because Eliot is not so much interested in simply telling a story as in describing people and events in as realistically detailed a way as possible. We realize, of course, that things do not simply "happen"; individual events, unless they are the result of forces of nature, are caused by human beings acting in response to particular motives. Intention proceeds action, and we cannot completely understand any human action unless we understand the person acting. The psychological approach is specific and concrete, and it tells us a great deal more about human reality than a straight narration of events could.
This development is of the utmost importance for the history of the novel. Although character analysis from the psychological viewpoint is as old as literature itself, Eliot popularized for her time the extensive investigation of the complexities of human personality. She created a fictional world in which, as in reality, a significant part of the drama takes place in the minds of people as they struggle to understand and to deal with the situations in which they find themselves. Due to her influence, the psychological novel came into prominence, and in the hands of such writers as Meredith, James, and Joyce, it has developed into the highly complex and sophisticated form with which we are familiar today.