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Adam Bede

George Eliot

Book Third: Chapters 22–26

Summary Book Third: Chapters 22–26

The contrast between Adam’s and Captain Donnithorne’s acceptance speeches emphasizes the differences in their characters. While the others at the table criticize Adam’s pride, everyone lauds Captain Donnithorne’s self-effacement. The narrator, however, takes the opposite view: Adam’s speech, proud though it may be, is an honest assessment of his own abilities. Captain Donnithorne’s speech, by contrast, is punctuated by his own guilt about Hetty and characterized by falseness. Captain Donnithorne wants to seem modest, so he gives a modest speech. Adam is proud of his workmanship and the respect of his peers, so he speaks frankly and proudly. The difference between them contributes largely to the difference between their fates at the end of the novel: Adam will overcome his weaknesses, but Captain Donnithorne will succumb to his, and as a result Adam will remain among his friends while Captain Donnithorne will have to flee the parish in disgrace.

Eliot continually discredits those members of the nobility who deride the simple pleasures of the lower classes. The party is a microcosm of everything distasteful about class prejudice. At the party, the nobility are set apart, and the women neglect even to join the lower classes for dinner. They sit on a raised platform and do not participate in the simple games of the peasants. They make fun of Wiry Ben’s dance, even though, as the reader learns from the reaction of Mr. Poyser, Wiry Ben is, in fact, a very talented dancer. The narrator has no patience with this snobbery, making clear over and over that the empathy in the novel lies with the poorer people. Mrs. Irwine, who embodies the worst of the snobs, is drawn as a single-minded, haughty woman whose condescension only serves to make people unhappy. For example, her selection of practical gifts for the young women, so as not to encourage vanity in the lower classes, undercuts the spirit of fun and frivolity of the afternoon. Her so-called gifts only make the recipients unhappy. The narrator encourages readers instead to enjoy life’s simpler pleasures and not to turn their noses up at characters or people just because they are of a lower class.