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Adam Bede

George Eliot

Book Fifth: Chapters 40–43

Book Fifth: Chapters 36–39

Book Fifth: Chapters 44–48

Summary: Chapter 40

Mr. Irwine returns to Hayslope and learns that the Squire has died in the night. At Stoniton, Adam stays to be close to Hetty, even though he cannot bear to visit her. Adam’s family and the Poysers are told the news about Hetty from Mr. Irwine. Mr. Poyser is deeply shamed and has no compassion for Hetty, whereas Mrs. Poyser feels sorry for her. They both agree that they want Dinah to come visit to help them deal with the grief. Lisbeth also wants Dinah to come and help and asks Seth to write to Dinah in Leeds. Seth does not know exactly where in Leeds Dinah is but gives what information he has to the Poysers, who send a letter to Dinah. Mr. Massey goes to see Mr. Irwine and asks what he thinks about the case against Hetty. Mr. Irwine says the case against Hetty does not look good, especially since Hetty denies ever having been pregnant when there is evidence against her. When Mr. Massey decides to go stay with Adam in Stoniton, Mr. Irwine warns him to be gentle and not to say anything too harsh about Hetty. Mr. Massey says he will be compassionate and tells Mr. Irwine that he himself was in trouble once, but he does not specify how.

Summary: Chapter 41

Mr. Irwine visits Adam in the room he shares with Mr. Massey in Stoniton. Adam is very pale and haggard, and Mr. Irwine tries without success to comfort him. He tells Adam that Hetty does not wish to see anyone and does not want to see Adam. Mr. Irwine tells Adam that Captain Donnithorne has not yet returned, that Adam should lay aside his desire for vengeance. He also tells Adam that if Adam killed Captain Donnithorne, he cannot imagine what the consequences might be, that they might be as dire as the consequences of the affair. He reminds Adam how he felt the night he fought with Captain Donnithorne. This memory strikes a chord with Adam and calms him.

Summary: Chapter 42

Adam waits in his room while Mr. Massey leaves to see the beginning of the trial. When he returns, Adam asks about the trial. Mr. Massey tells Adam about the testimony of Mr. Poyser, who is terribly upset. He also explains how Mr. Irwine helped Mr. Poyser from the courtroom when Mr. Poyser was close to collapsing. Adam asks about Hetty, who stands alone with no one near her in the courtroom. Mr. Massey says the doctor’s testimony was quite persuasive, especially in the face of Hetty’s continuing denial that she even had a child. Adam resolves to go watch the trial and stand by Hetty.

Summary: Chapter 43

Everyone notices Adam when he enters the courtroom because he looks so distraught. Taking a seat near Hetty, he looks at her, but she does not notice him. Sarah Stone, a Methodist widow from Stoniton, testifies that Hetty came to her house looking for lodging, and she agreed to take her in because Hetty looked so distraught but was obviously from good stock. During the night, Hetty gave birth to a child, and Ms. Stone dressed the child in her own children’s clothes. Ms. Stone went out the next evening to get some help for Hetty, and Hetty was gone when she returned. Then a man named John Olding, who is a farm laborer from near Stoniton, testifies that he saw Hetty in the fields one morning as he was going out to work. She walked down the road away from him, and when he got to the fields, he thought he heard a baby crying, but he could not find the child. On his way back, he stumbled upon the child’s dead body, and he went to the constable for help. When he and the constable returned the next day to the place where he found the body, Hetty was sitting there. She did not move when they approached. The jury convicts Hetty, and the judge sentences her to death by hanging. Hetty screams and passes out when the judge hands down the sentence.

Analysis: Chapter 40–43

In this section, the focus is almost entirely on Adam’s despair, nearly to the complete exclusion of Hetty’s situation. Because this novel is mostly about Adam and not Hetty, the story centers on his ability to cope with sorrow. Until Adam goes to the courtroom to watch the trial, Hetty is physically absent from the action of this part of the novel. Although she is ever-present through Adam’s obsession with her well-being, her own thoughts and feelings about her trial are really not important here. Everyone at the trial notices Adam, and the reader is meant to notice him as well. Hetty will make a brief but important appearance when Dinah goes to visit her in jail and effect her conversion, but even then, Dinah will be the focus of that scene, not Hetty. Instead, Eliot focuses on Adam and the destruction of his personality. Hetty is less important to the novel now, perhaps, because she is less moral and less good. The novel is about how a good man deals with everyday life and then with extraordinary circumstances. Hetty represents an extreme because she is so deeply selfish. Adam, by contrast, is someone the reader can emulate, and that may be why Eliot focuses on him.

Adam’s destruction in this section is near complete when Mr. Massey explains the trial. Adam’s personal appearance is failing in this section, and for a few chapters it seems that his courage wavers. He cannot bring himself to go visit Hetty, even though he believes that it would be the right thing to do. This Adam is a very different man from the one who once told Captain Donnithorne that he would never do something that was evil once he had decided it was the wrong thing to do. Adam here suffers, perhaps even to excess. After all, it is not his child who was killed, and Hetty was his fiancée, but not his wife and not someone he even knew well. What motivates Adam’s near total collapse is his sense of how useless this evil is, how unstoppably it progresses toward Hetty’s death, and how impotent he is in the face of such evil. Adam is overwhelmed by the situation because his conception of right and wrong has changed. This is not to say that Adam is not also very much motivated by sympathy for Hetty and by his sense that everyone else has abandoned her. But the rabid nature of his anger and the depths to which he is affected stem from his sense that the ground is slipping away from beneath him. Adam is a man of action, and action does no good in this situation. The right thing no longer exists, and he flounders in a world where all his strength cannot prevent the destruction of his loved one.

The novel at this point becomes its most multifarious and complicated. The narration suddenly comes through several characters who are new to the novel and about whom the reader knows almost nothing. The story of the death of Hetty’s child comes through witnesses at a trial, and in some places then through the filter of Mr. Massey as he retells it to Adam. This section also contains a major change of scene. The characters have left Hayslope and are staying in Stoniton, a town about which Eliot tells the reader very little other than that it is bustling. The action takes place in a room that is very different from the usual farmhouses and meadows where the rest of the action of the novel takes place. The effect of these changes is to throw the reader off balance, just as Adam, who remains the focal point, is off balance. These scenes and this story seem as strange to the reader as they do to him because they are so unlike the rest of the book. The peaceful tranquility and easy rhythm of the rest of the story are gone, and horrifying events have taken their place. It only makes sense, then, that the scenery and narration style should also change.

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