Adam Bede

by: George Eliot

Book First: Chapters 5–8

The characters in Adam Bede speak with the peculiar dialect of the region at that time, but each of their accents also reflects their class and their self-perception. Adam, for example, speaks clear and strong English when he is in the presence of Captain Donnithorne, Mr. Irwine, or most of the villagers. At home, however, his speech lapses into “peasant speech,” which is more heavily accented and less grammatically proper. This shift reflects his desire to please his mother, as the narrator tells the reader, but it also reflects the fundamental fact about Adam: although he was raised a peasant, and the marks of poverty and a simple country upbringing are always on him, he has largely outpaced his more simple-minded family. He belongs both to the world of the lower class, in terms of his morality and his beliefs, and to the world of the upper class, in terms of his intellect and sophistication. Mr. Massey, the schoolteacher, speaks relatively clear English, but he says everything twice. This idiosyncrasy may stem from his life as a teacher of poor students. In his professional career, he must always repeat everything he says. Mrs. Poyser has the thickest accent in the novel, and her wisdom matches her homespun knowledge. Her idioms are usually original, and their insight is profound. Her character, like her accent, represents the wisdom of the country peasant in the novel. Eliot’s representation of the accent is phonetic, so that any difficulties the readers many have with the accents can be resolved by sounding out the words. The different accents are important because they reflect the characters’ true natures.