Summary and Analysis
Book IV: Chapters 33-34
In the days following his delivery of the letter, Adam is surprised to discover that Hetty treats him more kindly than before. She has become quieter in general and always seems pleased to see him. He concludes from Hetty's behavior that there was really nothing between Arthur and her after all.
Jonathan Burge, meanwhile, has decided to take Adam on as a partner in the carpentry firm. With this improvement in his financial prospects, Adam sees his way clear to marry in the near future.
Early in November, Adam walks Hetty home from church and proposes. Hetty accepts out of a need for security because she wants to feel protected, as she had with Arthur. There is general rejoicing at the Poysers', and Adam is very happy.
In Chapter 33, Eliot spends most of her effort expanding upon the effect of beauty on a young man's heart. She praises the idealism of Adam's love and excuses his self-deception by saying that he thought Hetty loving and tender because he himself was so. Eliot's diction is designed to convince the reader that Adam's tendency to misjudge people is not a fault, but rather a sign that he possesses an open and trusting nature. Here, as in many other places, Eliot is trying to control her reader's reactions to her characters.
The essay on beauty as a source of confusion is one of several in the novel. This particular one is gentler than the rest; it is only ironic while the others, like the one in Chapter 17, tend to be openly sarcastic. But the point is still the same; Eliot works tirelessly to convince us that things are not always what they seem, that we should not judge by appearances. Female beauty is by far the most outstanding issue Eliot uses to create the appearance-reality theme; she feels compelled over and over again to point out that a lovely face does not always indicate a lovely soul. Reality is tricky for Eliot; she places great emphasis on the idea that man must be very, very cautious in his actions if he is to pass through life and live with a clear conscience. The appearance-reality theme is intended as imaginative support for this philosophy. She tells her readers to consider carefully the consequences of their actions before performing them, and, in order to give the point more weight, she gives him a picture of reality in which this caution is obviously justified. Adam, Arthur, and Hetty would not have gotten into trouble if they had been cautious, and one of the reasons why they should have been cautious is that appearances do not match reality. The two ideas work hand in hand.
One element in Hetty's motives for accepting Adam should be noted. Hetty is not presented as a thoroughly bad character (though sometimes one is tempted to think so) but as a weak one. Like Arthur, she is drawn somewhat sympathetically. Here, for example, as she has several times already, Eliot comments upon the soft femininity of Hetty's reactions, describing her as a "kitten." Clearly, Hetty is marrying Adam for the wrong reasons, but it is difficult to condemn her when she is presented this way. There is a childlike quality about Hetty, and this softens the judgment the reader makes upon her.