Summary and Analysis Book V: Chapter 38



When Hetty does not come back for two weeks, Adam decides to go to Snowfield to get her. He sets off in a state of high happiness, eager to see his prospective bride. But at Snowfield, he learns that Dinah has been in the city of Leeds for three weeks and that Hetty never arrived. Distracted with worry, he traces her as far as he can but loses her track on the second day. Not knowing that Hetty is pregnant, Adam can only conclude that she has run away from the marriage to him and probably gone to Arthur in Ireland. He sadly goes back home, tells Seth and the Poysers what has happened, and prepares to set out for Ireland. He decides, though, that it would be better to tell Mr. Irwine the situation before he leaves.


At this point in the novel, the consequences of Hetty and Arthur's thoughtless behavior begin to involve Adam. He had been a happy man, secure financially, secure (he thought) in the possession of the love of the woman he loved. Now his bright world is shattered, and events begin to hurry him on to a confrontation with himself and with reality.

Note once again the force of circumstance. We have seen at various points in the book how Eliot manipulates chance events and events over which the characters have no control to show how circumstance affects human life. Adam has done nothing very seriously wrong so far; he is guilty of pride and of giving in to impulses toward violence, but he has not behaved so as to permanently injure another human being, as both Arthur and Hetty have. Still he suffers, and will suffer more; his love for Hetty (a good impulse) prevents him from seeing her true nature, and, as a result, he is trapped in a situation which he must deal with. Eliot in this chapter begins to administer one of the prime "object lessons" in Adam Bede: that one must never allow himself to feel that he is in control of his physical fate because circumstance will force him into paths he had not planned on taking.

Eliot uses Adam's attitude toward his work as a sort of symbol for his entry into a new reality. Adam's philosophy has always been that as long as one can still work, things are not so very bad. Now for the first time Adam looks at his tools "wondering if he should ever come to feel pleasure in them again." This attitude will persist through Adam's soul-crisis; it represents his recognition of the fact that there is nothing he can do to improve his situation. Note that he begins to abandon his stubborn independence at the end of the chapter: "I can't stand alone in this way any longer."

Although Seth is not a major character, the relationship between Adam and him is of some interest. Of the two brothers, Adam is obviously the leader, but when Adam is in trouble, one of the people he leans on most heavily is Seth. Seth is a truly humble man, which gives him a strength in adversity which Adam does not possess. Eliot surrounds Adam in the closing of the novel with people of this stamp; he goes to Mr. Irwine at the end of this chapter, and Dinah appears later on. The point is clear. These characters have what Adam needs to achieve: a proper orientation towards reality. They are models, so to speak, of the sort of attitude he must strive to attain.