Summary and Analysis
Book IV: Chapters 30-31
The next Sunday, Adam gets himself invited to the Hall Farm; he has resolved to give Hetty the letter. The two walk in the garden, and Adam begins by saying that his intention is to protect Hetty from a man who doesn't intend to marry her. She is frightened and protests that Arthur does love her. Adam repeats his statement and offers her the letter as proof. Hetty takes it but still does not believe. They go back into the house, and the rest of the evening is spent in conversation; Hetty has no opportunity to open the letter.
On his way home, Adam encounters Seth, who shows him a letter from Dinah. It is full of piety and tells of Dinah's work with the poor in Snowfield and her desire to visit the Poysers again. Adam praises her goodness and warmth.
When bedtime comes, Hetty at last has a chance to be alone. She reads Arthur's letter. In it, he says, very graciously, that he is sorry for causing her pain but that he cannot marry her; their respective social positions are so different that they could never be happy together. Hetty's reaction is extreme; she is completely crushed. She cries herself to sleep and wakes to despair. Her principal impulse is to get away from her surroundings, and she decides to ask her uncle, Mr. Poyser, for permission to look for a position as a lady's maid.
When she broaches the subject that evening, Mr. Poyser discourages her, saying that she'd do better to stay at the farm. He says she should get a respectable husband and live a comfortable life. Hetty is upset at first, but when she goes up to bed, she thinks over her uncle's words. He had been referring to Adam, she knows, and she now begins to think that marrying him would have its advantages; she could at least get away from home.
These chapters begin a section in which Hetty is the center of attention. The character is dissected and analyzed at great length, as Eliot exposes the qualities in Hetty which led to her downfall.
The foremost quality is her capacity for self-deception, a capacity which goes far beyond Arthur's. Hetty knows how unusual it would be, in a society in which class lines are so rigid, for a gentleman to marry a farmer's niece. She vaguely recognizes the insecurity of her position. Arthur's absence makes her very uneasy. But these anxieties do not cause her to seriously doubt; there is too much pride involved. She clings to the belief that Arthur loves her so much that he could never be happy without her.
Adam's "calm certainty" as he tells her that Arthur does not intend to marry her shakes Hetty, but she cannot abandon her romantic vision until she is absolutely forced to. When Adam gives her the letter, she thinks he is mistaken about its contents. Note that she and Arthur are alike in that both cling to unrealistically optimistic visions of the future to the last gasp. Eliot, as noted above, feels that one must be realistic, basically. Hetty should realize that her station in life itself would prevent her from marrying a gentleman; Arthur should realize that in order to win other people's respect as an honorable man, he must act like one.
Hetty is emotionally unstable, to say the least. The only constant in her character seems to be this: She always seeks her own advantage. All else is relative. Faced with the loss of Arthur, she turns almost immediately to Adam. This quick switch shows Hetty in an almost implausibly bad light. She is portrayed as a girl with almost no unselfish feelings at all, capable of using Adam, as she had used Arthur, completely for her own ends. When the vision of future luxury vanishes, her "love" for Arthur simply evaporates. Clearly Hetty is capable only of self-love.
Eliot probably sensed how implausible this development is, for she imagines her readers protesting that Hetty's behavior is "strange." But the switch to Adam is structurally necessary if Adam is to become deeply involved in the consequences of Hetty and Arthur's love affair and work out his personality problem through this involvement. But necessary or not, the implausibility represents a flaw; as we move along, we will encounter more evidence that plot construction is not Eliot's greatest strength.
The contrast between Hetty and Dinah reveals itself again in these chapters. Eliot never lets us lose sight of the fact that Hetty's evil is the direct opposite of Dinah's good. Here Dinah writes a letter full of love while Hetty responds to one with hatred and resentment. Dinah speaks of her work and her duty while Hetty worries about her selfish ends. Seth goes to visit Dinah on receiving the letter and proposes again; she turns him down because she does not feel the match would be according to God's will and because she doesn't feel she could love Seth perfectly. Hetty, on the other haul, seeks a marriage even though she has no affection for her proposed husband.
At one point in Chapter 30, the author speaks of Hetty's "native powers of concealment." Eliot gives Hetty a trait which could almost be read as a symbol for the way in which the girl deals with the people around her: She hides things. Not only does she hide her thoughts and the truth about her relationship with Arthur, she hides her earrings, her locket, her pregnant condition, and, finally, her baby. Hetty, like Arthur, is extremely two-faced; in keeping with the appearance-reality theme, she never is what she seems. She lives in her own little world and makes deceit practically a way of life.
In this situation as in others — his father's funeral, for example — Adam thinks humbly even though he usually acts proudly. In contemplating the new developments, he remarks to himself that man must bow to God's will and accept the bad fortune with the good. This ambiguity in Adam's character is the measure of his imperfection; when he learns to act humbly, because such actions entail good consequences, his character will be more worthy of admiration.
The introduction of Dinah at this point, when Adam is worried about whether or not Hetty will marry him, serves the same function — foreshadowing — which we have remarked earlier.