Adam Bede Summary and Analysis
by George Eliot
Eighteen months after Adam and Arthur part, in 1801, Mrs. Poyser milks the cows and speaks with Dinah. Both are wearing black dresses. Mrs. Poyser is trying to convince her not to go back to Snowfield. She argues that some of the people in Hayslope whom Dinah helped to find religion will go back to sin; Chad's Bess will go back to wearing finery. Dinah admits that she is leaving to avoid personal temptations, not purely to help others.
Adam comes to the house carrying Totty. He asks Dinah to stay with his mother, who is ailing. Mr. Poyser comes in, they all have tea, and Mrs. Poyser announces the news that Dinah is leaving again. Dinah flushes, and Adam says that he thought that she had come to stay for good this time. Adam defends her, saying that whatever she has decided is right, which makes Dinah cry and leave the table. When Totty brings her downstairs after Adam has spoken to the Poysers about his businesses, she is ready with her bonnet. Totty informs her mother that when she went upstairs Dinah was crying and praying "ever so." Dinah and Adam leave together.
Adam does not ask to take her arm, since he has never seen her walk arm in arm with Seth and thus assumes that it is disagreeable to her. Adam wonders aloud that she cannot make the Poysers' home her permanent home--with no interest of his own, merely thinking of his brother. He tells Dinah that he still wishes that she would marry his brother, to which she makes no answer. Dinah asks if he has heard from Arthur, and Adam says that despite the coming peace he has decided to stay in the army. Seth runs into the two of them and sees that there is a look of emotion on Dinah's face, but none on Adam's. When Lisbeth sees her, she asks her why she has been crying.
Adam, who has not yet gotten over his unhappiness fully, works at some figures while Seth reads a book. Dinah gets up early the next morning to clean the house, as does Seth. As she dusts, she looks longingly at Adam's papers and asks Seth if Adam is bothered when people dust among them. Adam himself answers that he becomes very wrathful if they are not returned to the same place. Dinah blushes deeply, and Adam thinks that she is displeased by him. He asks her if something is the matter, and she says no. He says that he really thinks very highly of her and does not want her to misunderstand what he said yesterday about being happy that she was going.
Lisbeth begs her not to go, saying that perhaps Seth was not good enough for her, but Adam could be made to like her if she stops for a little while longer. After she leaves, Lisbeth complains to Seth that she would not have gone if Adam were more fond of her. Seth asks if she has said anything about the matter, but Lisbeth says that she can tell. Seth says that she should not tell Adam, because it will only make him uneasy if he does not feel the same way.
On Sunday morning, Seth goes to hear a preacher, and Lisbeth is left alone with Adam. Adam reads the Bible, and his mother remarks that an angel in the illustration looks like Dinah. Adam says that this is so, but Dinah is prettier. Lisbeth asks Adam why he does not marry her and says that he should ask her. Lisbeth says that she is sure that Dinah loves him.
Adam goes out walking in the fields and wonders if Seth would be hurt. He does not think that he would be, because he has never been jealous that Lisbeth loves him better. He meets Seth as he is coming home from Dinah's preaching. Seth tells Adam that there was a naughty boy who ceased to be bad once he heard Dinah's voice, then went up on the platform and pulled at her until she took him onto her lap for the rest of the prayer. The boy's mother cried to see it. Seth gives his consent to Adam regarding asking Dinah to marry him, after he guesses that this is what he means to do. Adam goes over to the Poysers' farm.
Dinah blushes in surprise at seeing him. She says that she hopes that Adam's mother is well. He says that he loves her with his heart and soul. She turns white with a painful joy, but then he says that they must part anyway. He asks her if she feels for him as if he is more than a brother. She says that she does but that she is afraid that this feeling might draw her away from ministering to others.
Adam asks her what could be more holy than their mutual feelings, adding that he will not stand in the way of her good work. Dinah says that she must go away for the time being, so that her duty might become clearer to her. They go out to take a walk together, arm in arm. The Poysers see them together on their way back from church--and guess the truth. After overhearing his parents' conversation, Timmy runs up to Dinah and says that his mother told him that she will never marry anyone unless he is a Methodist and a cripple.
Mr. Poyser says that he could forgive Adam for missing church if he could convince Dinah to stay. He says that they both must come to the Harvest supper on Wednesday.
On Wednesday, Adam returns home from work, hoping that he can fix a time to visit Dinah in Snowfield. Upon reaching the Poysers' home, he is alarmed that Dinah is not there. She has left already.
Mr. Poyser watches half-witted Tom Saft enjoy his beef dinner with great amusement. Tom seems like something of a jester around the farm. Besides him, Mr. Poyser considers that he has the best servants and farmhands around. After the dinner, they all sing a song together. They drink a good quantity of ale as they do so. The conversation turns to politics, and Adam says that the French are not all so weak as everyone else thinks--otherwise Lord Nelson would have no honor in beating them.
Bartle asks Adam why he was not at church, and when he finds out that it has to do with Dinah, he reproaches him. Though he was very taken with Dinah, Bartle argues that all women are the same. He gets into a heated argument with Mrs. Poyser over the point, which is interrupted by some awful singing by the servants. Adam and Bartle agree to leave together.
Adam understands Dinah's reasons for leaving--her feelings towards him were getting too strong. Adam writes her a letter, but he burns it and decides to go to Snowfield himself. On the way along the same road that he once walked to try to find Hetty, Adam understands that his love for Dinah is deeper and better. He rides where the people whose house she lives in have told him she is preaching, then waits for over an hour on a hill.
As she mounts the hill, she stops to look back over the village. Adam calls out to her, and she comes to embrace him. She says that it is God's will that they must marry, because she lives a divided existence without him.
A little more than a month later, Adam and Dinah are married. It is a community-wide event. For once, Dinah does not wear black. She wears a gray dress in the Quaker style. There is a small tinge of sadness in Adam's great joy, which Dinah recognizes but does not begrudge him. Bartle Massey consents to attend the wedding, although with great protest against weddings in general.
On the way home, Mr. Irwine says that it will be a bit of good news to write to Arthur.
Near the end of June in 1807, Dinah comes out of the yard that used to belong to Mr. Burge and which is now Adam's. She calls to Lisbeth, age four, who runs to her mother. Seth exits the house with his nephew Addy, age 2, riding on his shoulders. They walk down the road to meet Adam, who is returning from his first meeting with Arthur in a long time. Hetty died on her way back to the village some years before.
Adam looks affected and says that Arthur looks much worse after the fever, though he still smiles like he did when he was a boy. Dinah regrets that she has never seen him smile, but Adam says that she will tomorrow, since he has invited Arthur to come and see her. He was pleased to hear that she still uses his watch--and said that he would probably turn Methodist as soon as he heard her speak. Adam told him that she does not preach any more because the Methodists have prohibited it. Seth says that this is a pity and that they should have left to join the Wesleyans. But Adam says that the new rule is wise because some of the other women did more harm than good with their preaching. Adam says that Arthur is also going to the Poysers' home with Mr. Irwine.
During Adam's visit to the Poyser farm, what Eliot has been foreshadowing for a number of chapters now becomes obvious: Dinah is in love with Adam. This is quite interesting given that Dinah said to Seth and repeated on a number of other occasions that her religious work prevents her from having a marriage and family of her own. So, either she has changed her mind about the stringency with which she wishes to attend to her religious beliefs, or perhaps she has found a way to make them compatible with marriage.
Dinah is still struggling with her own balance between the idea of being in love and maintaining her commitment to her religion. When she says that she is leaving her aunt's house to avoid temptation, it is quite clear that this temptation is Adam. By phrasing her attraction toward him as a "temptation," Dinah implies not only that she respects him and wishes to have a family with him, but also that she has lustful thoughts about him-something that must be quite unsettling for such a religious woman.
In Chapter Fifty, the scene in which Adam and Dinah walk home together feels painful to read in that Adam is unintentionally hurting Dinah. Adam is blissfully unaware of Dinah's feelings toward him, and he does not realize how indelicate it is to raise the issue of her feelings for his brother. At this point in the novel, it is difficult to see how there could be a comic resolution, because it seems that even if Adam were to become agreeable to a relationship with Dinah, his brother's feelings would stand in the way.
In Chapter Fifty-One, Lisbeth takes on the role of the wise fool. She has done nothing but interfere for the entire novel-making Adam feel guilty for the good fortune that he has enjoyed, and nagging her two boys incessantly. She finally shows a sign of usefulness to the plot by saying what at this point is clear to everyone but Adam. She is painfully blunt with Dinah, begging her to stay in case her presence could convince Adam to fall in love with her. Seth's lack of jealousy is almost unbelievable. In the end, he embodies a figure that is almost more religious than Dinah in that he puts others' happiness entirely before his own.
When Adam asks Dinah to marry him in the next chapter, she begins to behave like a woman rather than a religious figure for the first time in the novel. Like Hetty, she blushes and dreams at the thought of the man she loves. Unlike Hetty, though, Dinah controls her desires, thinking that they will be detrimental to her religious practice. By this point in the novel, Eliot's readers are likely to sympathize deeply with Adam, whose courtship of Dinah is more realistic and acceptable in some ways than his infatuation with Hetty was. This makes Dinah's refusal to accept him seem unreasonable and too ascetic and self-denying, another implicit criticism of the Methodist lifestyle which, in other parts of the novel, Eliot seems to be on the edge of endorsing.
In Chapter Fifty-Three, the scene of the Harvest dinner at the Poysers' farm recalls the scene of Arthur's birthday party at his estate. Both are decidedly pastoral in tone. The pastoral mode in literature celebrates the common man by giving him a veneer of cleanliness and outdoorsiness. The rougher characters aare portrayed as clowns or buffoons, as Wiry Ben was when he danced at the Captain's birthday celebration. Here, the rougher servants of the family are exaggerated as comic, even down to the "half-witted" Tom Saft.
Chapter Fifty-Four, in which Adam follows Dinah to Leeds, is heavily moralistic. Aware that her novel is drawing to a close, Eliot takes care to reiterate the values that she has tried to impart in her long work. To contemporary readers, her manner may seem heavy-handed. She reinforces the fact that her work focuses on the common man by having Dinah return from preaching to the working class in a newly industrial city. She reinvokes the pastoral backdrop by having the two meet on a beautiful rural hill in order to exchange their loving vows. Most of all (though it is somewhat reductionistic to make the claim) she seems to assert a Christian humanism (if not a secular humanism) over Dinah's earlier ascetic Christianity, now that Dinah is deciding to start a family. What is more, with the denomination's new rules against women preachers, Dinah is excluded from the full religious life she once had.
The structure of the novel is built around the marriage between Dinah and Adam. Eliot mixes comedy with tragedy by having most of the novel describe Hetty's tragic flaw (her vanity) and her subsequent downfall. Like the comedy of manners in predecessors like Jane Austen, Eliot has her novel end in a marriage that is advantageous to both parties. Therefore the novel seems to qualify as a comedy. Unlike Austen's characters, however, Adam and Dinah remain on the fringe of poverty and have a very modest wedding.
The epilogue is suggestive of Eliot's idea of an ideal society. It also functions, as was the fashion in Victorian novels, to tie up all of the loose ends and reveal what the characters do later in life. Having repudiated Christianity at an early age, Eliot seems to have chosen family values and the connections between man and nature as her subject. The comedy began with two possible pairs, but the numbers shifted with Hetty's exile and death. Three people--two men and a woman--is an awkward number with which to end a comedy, but Eliot tries to manage the impossibility of a double marriage by writing of Seth's non-jealous forgiveness of his brother. This unrealistic state of emotions has been identified as one of the few weaknesses in a magnificently constructed plot.
Adam Bede Essays and Related Content
- Adam Bede: Major Themes
- Adam Bede: Essays
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- Adam Bede: Questions
- Adam Bede: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- George Eliot: Biography
- Adam Bede Summary
- About Adam Bede
- Character List
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
- Summary and Analysis of Book First, Chapters 1-8
- Summary and Analysis of Book First, Chapters 9-16
- Summary and Analysis of Book Second
- Summary and Analysis of Book Third
- Summary and Analysis of Book Fourth
- Summary and Analysis of Book Fifth
- Summary and Analysis of Book Sixth
- Religion in Adam Bede
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