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Adam Bede

George Eliot

Book Fifth: Chapters 44–48

Book Fifth: Chapters 40–43

Book Sixth: Chapters 49–52

Summary: Chapter 44

Captain Donnithorne journeys home after receiving a letter with news of his grandfather’s death. After musing about what a good landlord he will be and how everyone will love him, his thoughts turn to Hetty, and how bad he feels for what happened. However, Captain Donnithorne is assured that her future is bright because she is marrying Adam. Because Adam bested him in their fight, Captain Donnithorne feels a little awkward toward him—in his view, Adam forced him to tell a lie. Yet he decides to make that relationship right as well. The journey is a comfortable one filled with self-satisfied reflections. When he arrives, the servants greet him. Speaking briefly with his aunt, he assures her that he will take care of her in her old age and then goes to his room to change. In his room, he finds a letter from Mr. Irwine detailing Hetty’s plight. Bolting back out the door, he saddles up his horse.

Summary: Chapter 45

Dinah arrives and Stoniton and goes immediately to the prison to see Hetty. There she encounters the stranger who listened to her in the opening preaching at Hayslope. He helps her gain entrance to the prison. Dinah holds Hetty for a long time after she arrives, and when she speaks, she tells Hetty that God is with her and loves her. After Dinah asks Hetty to confess her sin and to open her heart, Hetty says she cannot. Dinah calls on the suffering of Christ and begs Him to open Hetty’s heart. Frightened, Hetty finally confesses her crime and tells Dinah how she took the baby into the woods to kill it, but she could not find a pool to drown it in. Then she saw a spot in a tree root and buried the baby there, hoping someone would find it. Ever since, Hetty still hears the baby’s cries. She returned the next day to the spot where she buried the baby to see if it was still crying, but the baby was gone. Hetty asks whether Dinah believes that God will make her stop hearing the baby cry now that she has confessed.

Summary: Chapter 46

Dinah goes to see Adam to ask him to visit Hetty before she is executed. He says he cannot until the very last moment, but he promises to come the morning of her death if there has been no stay of execution. In the morning, Adam prepares to go see Hetty and realizes that it is the day that they were supposed to be married. Mr. Massey tries to comfort Adam by saying that some good might come of this suffering, but Adam reacts violently to that idea. From Mr. Massey’s point of view, Hetty will always have suffered, so no other good can redeem that suffering. When Adam reaches the cell door, he is still so troubled that he is trembling. After a moment, he sees Hetty and is deeply saddened by her appearance. Consoling Hetty, Dinah urges Hetty to speak to Adam. Helpless and clutching Dinah, Hetty asks for his forgiveness. Adam says he forgave her long ago. Holding out her hand, Hetty asks Adam for a kiss for the way she’s treated him. They kiss goodbye. Hetty’s voice is firmer when she asks Adam to tell Captain Donnithorne that she cursed him once, but Dinah says she should forgive him or else God will not forgive her.

Summary: Chapter 47

Dinah rides out to the gallows with Hetty. At the sight of the crowd, Hetty clings to Dinah. They pray together and keep their eyes closed. The crowd is silent and stares and Dinah in awe. As they arrive at the gallows, a huge cry goes up from the crowd because a man has arrived on horseback. Captain Donnithorne arrives, and he has with him a stay of execution.

Summary: Chapter 48

The chapter opens up the day after Hetty was scheduled to be executed; Adam and Captain Donnithorne each go for a walk in the woods at the Chase. They meet each other in the spot where they had their fight several months earlier. Adam does not excoriate Captain Donnithorne because he can see that Captain Donnithorne is suffering badly. They go to the Hermitage, which has not been opened since the night of their fight. Captain Donnithorne announces to Adam that he plans to go away to join the army, and he begs Adam to stay in Hayslope and convince the Poysers to stay as well, even though they had all planned to leave. He reveals to Adam that he wants to make the situation better and is annoyed when Adam does not immediately feel sorry for him and agree. Eventually agreeing to stay, Adam attempts to convince the Poysers to stay too. Captain Donnithorne also laments that he was unable to obtain a full pardon for Hetty and that she will be sent away from England for her crime. To thank Dinah, Captain Donnithorne gives Adam a watch to give her for all she has done for Hetty. After Adam leaves, Captain Donnithorne goes to the trashcan and takes out Hetty’s handkerchief from where he hid it several months earlier.

Analysis: Chapters 44–48

The journey Captain Donnithorne makes back to Hayslope contrasts with the journey Hetty makes in her attempts to find him. Captain Donnithorne’s journey is luxurious. He rides in the fancy coach he can afford, meditating peacefully on his inheritance and on how he will improve his situation with Hetty. While his conscience is not entirely at ease, he does not make himself uncomfortable by spending too much time thinking about things that are difficult. Captain Donnithorne believes he is heading home, to the place where he is now master. Hetty’s journey, by contrast, is on the road traveling by foot because she does not have the money to travel by coach. Troubled to the point of distraction, she has no real destination and no place she now considers home. The parallel shows the difference between the consequences of their affair in each of their lives. In fact, the two miss each other on the road by only a few days. The culpability for the affair probably rests more squarely with Captain Donnithorne, since he is the older of the two and because his social position makes him able to exploit Hetty. But of the two of them, Hetty is clearly the one suffering the consequences of the affair while Captain Donnithorne’s life is still one of ease and luxury.

Hetty’s confession of her crime to Dinah simultaneously represents a softening of her heart and shows how selfish she is to the end. Prior to Dinah’s arrival, Hetty’s silence and denial that she was ever pregnant reflects her desire that no one who knows her should ever know about her shame. Her willingness to confess, therefore, suggests that she has finally realized the severity of her situation and that shame is not her primary problem anymore. But her confession is startling in what it leaves out. Hetty has no thought about the baby’s suffering and no maternal sense of loss that her only child is dead. Hetty’s only thought is for her own comfort. She wonders whether God will make the baby stop crying so that she can be more comfortable, and she admits that when she went back to find the baby the day after she abandoned it, she did not know what her intentions were. Notably, the narrator does very little to enhance sympathy for the baby. The reader does not, for example, know whether the baby is a boy or a girl. Neither Hetty nor Sarah Stone gives any description of what the baby looked like or sounded like in its short life. The bare facts certainly engender a good deal of sympathy for the child, who was left to die alone in the woods because its mother was afraid. Nevertheless, Hetty is more sympathetic. Hetty is not a monster but rather a confused, scared, imperfect young woman who has made a terrible mistake and will suffer a terrible price for it. Hetty’s suffering is pitiable, and Dinah certainly pities her, but Hetty’s stubborn lack of concern for herself makes it hard to love her.

Dinah’s decision to stay with Hetty in jail before she is executed displays a genuine and accepting love for Hetty. When they both lived together at Hall Farm, Dinah was aware of Hetty’s selfish character, especially when she refuses to listen to Dinah’s advice to seek out God in good and bad times. Dinah knows Hetty needs some guidance. Since their talk at Hall Farm, Dinah has been waiting for an opportunity to help her. Despite Hetty’s treatment of her back then, Dinah believes in Hetty and does not give up on her. Throughout the story, Dinah’s love for those around her is not judgmental, and she accepts people as they are. When Dinah grasps Hetty in her arms, she feels a rush of happiness sweep through her because Hetty has accepted her love. Dinah’s inner beauty radiates as she listens to Hetty’s story of murdering her baby and she does not pass judgment. By asking Adam to come see Hetty, Dinah is showing her love for both of them by having Hetty ask for Adam’s forgiveness before she is hanged. Adam would have suffered more had he not conversed with Hetty before her execution, and Dinah knows this. In this scene of forgiveness, Adam and the reader are able to see that Dinah is the better woman because she exhibits inner beauty.

Adam’s forgiveness of Captain Donnithorne represents a major change in Adam’s character. Although Adam wanted to kill Captain Donnithorne, he does not even reproach him because he sees how greatly the captain suffers. Compassion is a new trait in Adam and contrasts with his treatment of his father before his death and with his feelings about Captain Donnithorne up to this point. Adam’s change of heart comes from his own suffering. He refuses to make the suffering of another person worse. This new gentleness, which remains with Adam through the end of the novel, shows Adam to be a better man for all the terrible things that have happened to him. No longer simply the proud, self-sufficient workman he was when the novel began, Adam is now worthy of Dinah and a better person for his ability to feel compassion toward others.

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