Adam Bede

by: George Eliot

Book Fifth: Chapters 44–48

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.