Summary and Analysis
Book V: Chapters 46-47
The next morning, Dinah comes to tell Adam that Hetty has repented and now wants to see him. Adam has not yet given up hope of a pardon, but he promises to come the next morning — the day of the execution — if no pardon has been granted by then. He and Bartle watch through the night; there is no news, and early in the morning they go to the prison.
When Adam enters the cell, Hetty is leaning on Dinah, drawing strength from her. She begs Adam's forgiveness. He gives it and cries, and they share a last kiss. She asks him to tell Arthur that she forgives him too, and then she is led away.
As Hetty and Dinah approach the gallows in the death cart, there is a sudden shout from the crowd. Arthur comes riding madly up with a reprieve in his hand.
The most significant element here from the viewpoint of the theme is the description of the changed Hetty. With her usual precision, Eliot has Dinah say of Hetty, "the pride of her heart has given way," and Hetty's words and actions toward the end of the chapter are calculated to bear out this statement. Gone are Hetty's vanity and her childish flutterings; she has a quiet demeanor, and her fear of death, though still present, is no longer paralyzing. As a result of her confession and the mental release it represents, the blocks which had cut her off from human contact have been swept away, and she shows herself to be humble, forgiving, and capable of love. She no longer pretends or hides things, but is open, sincere and trusting.
Thus Hetty learns her lesson, though she does so only at the last moment. Her problems, as we have seen, have been pride, selfishness, and irresponsibility. She now takes responsibility for her crime and for the pain she has caused others. She also, in a development parallel to Adam's, shows concern for others by forgiving Arthur and asking Adam's forgiveness. In Eliot's terms, Hetty has been enlightened; she has learned that one must bear the consequences of one's actions and that one must consider other people's happiness as well as one's own. Eliot does not condemn Hetty completely; she "saves" her in the end, basing the salvation on a development in the direction of Dinah's and Mr. Irwine's attitudes toward life.
Even though he is still bitter towards Arthur, Adam has taken some first steps towards human sympathy. Here he goes to see Hetty in spite of the fact that he knows the meeting will cause him pain. And statements in this chapter indicate that he has absorbed at least part of Mr. Irwine's philosophy. He speaks of that sort of evil which can never be corrected and seems to favor cautious action. This is clearly a new idea for Adam, and his avowal of it is a measure of his growing wisdom.
Dinah acts here as a harmonizing influence, as she does throughout the novel. She brings people together and establishes a feeling of community. Everyone recognizes her moral force; not only the characters already mentioned, but also the crowd at the execution, view her with awe. Even Bartle Massey, that obstinate woman-hater, approves of her; this is a sort of comic-ironic "classic tribute."
Chapter 47, in which Arthur comes dashing up at the last moment to save Hetty, is obviously extremely melodramatic. The scene is such a cliché as to seem almost silly; it is clearly out of place in a realistic novel. But having softened Hetty, it must have seemed inappropriate to Eliot to kill her off so bluntly, and so she worked out this solution. Whether or not the incident is plausible, it must be admitted that it cannot be read over without a thrill. Eliot has created sympathy for Hetty, and her rescue, though not esthetically pleasing, is imaginatively so.