Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.

Natural Beauty

Eliot’s description of the natural beauty of the English countryside, especially in scenes of great sadness or evil, expresses the idea that external and internal realities do not always correspond. For example, when Hetty wanders off toward Windsor to find Captain Donnithorne, the day is beautiful and the countryside is magnificent. The reader would think Hetty’s stunning looks combined with the sunny countryside backdrop would describe an equally joyful scene in the book. However, unbeknownst to the reader, Hetty suffers enormously under the weight of her plight. Although Hetty herself is beautiful, her appearance contrasts with her internal character, which is weak, selfish, and ugly. Unlike Dinah, who is beautiful both externally and internally, Hetty has no inner beauty. Eliot uses the contrast between internal and external beauty to encourage the reader to look beyond the surface of people and things to their deeper characteristics and meanings.


The dogs in the novel reflect the temperament of the characters with respect to helpless beings. Adam’s dog, Gyp, loves his master. He is happy and trusting and devoted to Adam. Gyp’s condition reflects Adam’s love of the helpless and his desire to help and care for those who depend on him. Mr. Massey’s dog is also healthy but cowers whenever Mr. Massey displays his split personality. As one who deeply cares for the helpless, Mr. Massey can be grouchy and crotchety even while he provides nourishment and assistance to those in need. Mr. Irwine has dogs, who are happy and contented. They laze around the hearth. As his relationship with his dogs suggests, Mr. Irwine is kind and gentle toward those who depend on him, but he is a little lazy and cares more for the comforts of his home.

Narrative Sarcasm

The narrator in Adam Bede butts into the story to provide ironic and often sarcastic commentary on the characters and the reader’s impression of them. The narrator pokes fun at the reader, especially the imagined, haughty reader who has a low opinion of such simple characters as Adam and Mr. Irwine. Making fun of the reader has two effects. First, it feeds the idea that the nobility is frivolous and a bad judge of character. The narrator clearly approves of the characters, and the narrator calls into question the reader’s judgment by suggesting that the reader does not. Second, the satire keeps the narrative brisk and the tone light. The narrator pushes the heavy idea that readers should not judge others and that they should love their neighbors. To avoid becoming preachy, the narrator uses humor, and a big part of that humor is in the sarcasm.