See the difference between the impression a man makes on you when you walk by his side in familiar talk, or look at him in his home, and the figure he makes when seen from a lofty historical level, or even in the eyes of a critical neighbor who thinks of him as an embodied system or opinion rather than as a man.
In chapter 5, the narrator describes Mr. Irwine from the perspective of his domestic situation. Mr. Irwine has chosen to remain a bachelor in order to care for his mother and sisters, likes a leisurely morning before a day of hard work, and is kind to his dogs. These details make Mr. Irwine a real man, rather than a mere figurehead or even merely the rector of Hayslope. This interjection comes after first meeting Mr. Irwine, whom the narrator has gone to great lengths to personalize.
Eliot uses this personal approach to all of the characters for two reasons. First, Eliot encourages readers not to judge their neighbors harshly but rather to accept those them for who they are. This approach to interpersonal relationships stems in part from Eliot’s realist approach to novel writing and partly from her worldview. Realism demands that Eliot describe her characters as they are, not as ideas or in conformation with some literary ideal. Real people, of course, have domestic lives as well as public ones, so it is important that Mr. Irwine’s home life be part of the realist novel. Eliot’s worldview, which requires suspension of judgment on the basis of things like class, religion, and gender, also fits with this kind of description. None of the characters in Adam Bede is wholly good or wholly bad. None of them is easy to judge.
Second, the personal approach encourages religious tolerance, of which Mr. Irwine is a prime example. Eliot writes in an age of religious tension in England, and she wants to encourage a gentler approach to conversion and religion. Mr. Irwine, with his tolerance of Dinah and the other Methodists, might be viewed by some readers as too lax. Eliot seeks to show that he is motivated by love. To reveal his motivations, she must show him in his home and help us understand and respect him. That is why it is important to Eliot that Mr. Irwine not be seen as an “embodied system or opinion.”
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