Study Guide

Adam Bede Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

By George Eliot

Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

Clearly the rector was not what is called in these days an "earnest" man: he was fonder of church history than of divinity, and had much more insight into men's characters than interest in their opinions; he was neither laborious, nor obviously self-denying, nor very copious in alms-giving, and his theology, you perceive, was lax. His mental palate, indeed, was rather pagan, and found a savouriness in a quotation from Sophocles or Theocritus that was quite absent from any text in Isaiah or Amos. But if you feed your young setter on raw flesh, how can you wonder at its retaining a relish for uncooked partridge in after-life? And Mr. Irwine's recollections of young enthusiasm and ambition were all associated with poetry and ethics that lay aloof from the Bible. (5.64)

Eliot's narrator reveals Mr. Irwine's somewhat unorthodox leanings, but does not exactly condemn him or his opinions. Rather, Mr. Irwine is depicted with gentle humor. The truth is, the narrator can relate to Mr. Irwine's "insight into men's characters." Isn't such insight the whole point of Adam Bede?

For the last two years, at least, Hetty had been in the habit of hearing her uncle say, "Adam Bede may be working for wage now, but he'll be a master-man some day, as sure as I sit in this chair. Mester Burge is in the right on't to want him to go partners and marry his daughter, if it's true what they say; the woman as marries him 'ull have a good take, be't Lady day or Michaelmas," a remark which Mrs. Poyser always followed up with her cordial assent. "Ah," she would say, "it's all very fine having a ready-made rich man, but mayhappen he'll be a ready-made fool; and it's no use filling your pocket full o' money if you've got a hole in the corner. It'll do you no good to sit in a spring-cart o' your own, if you've got a soft to drive you: he'll soon turn you over into the ditch. I allays said I'd never marry a man as had got no brains; for where's the use of a woman having brains of her own if she's tackled to a geck as everybody's a-laughing at? She might as well dress herself fine to sit back'ards on a donkey." (9.3)

The Poysers do not value wealth alone. In the Poysers' eyes, Adam's commonsensical ways are admirable, and should enable him to achieve more than privileged and less practical men. Also, he's studly.

But for the last few weeks a new influence had come over Hetty—vague, atmospheric, shaping itself into no self-confessed hopes or prospects, but producing a pleasant narcotic effect, making her tread the ground and go about her work in a sort of dream, unconscious of weight or effort, and showing her all things through a soft, liquid veil, as if she were living not in this solid world of brick and stone, but in a beatified world, such as the sun lights up for us in the waters. Hetty had become aware that Mr. Arthur Donnithorne would take a good deal of trouble for the chance of seeing her; that he always placed himself at church so as to have the fullest view of her both sitting and standing; that he was constantly finding reason for calling at the Hall Farm, and always would contrive to say something for the sake of making her speak to him and look at him. The poor child no more conceived at present the idea that the young squire could ever be her lover than a baker's pretty daughter in the crowd, whom a young emperor distinguishes by an imperial but admiring smile, conceives that she shall be made empress. But the baker's daughter goes home and dreams of the handsome young emperor, and perhaps weighs the flour amiss while she is thinking what a heavenly lot it must be to have him for a husband. (9.5)

Hetty "dreams" of Arthur in two senses of the word. First, she harbors an extreme yearning for him. And second, the thought of him lifts her out of everyday reality—creates a state of experience that is more like a fluid dream than a solid chain of events. Something that would make a pretty cool surrealist painting? Perhaps.

"That would be a capital match for Adam. He would slip into old Burge's shoes and make a fine thing of that building business, I'll answer for him. I should like to see him well settled in this parish; he would be ready then to act as my grand-vizier when I wanted one. We could plan no end of repairs and improvements together. I've never seen the girl, though, I think—at least I've never looked at her." (9.10)

Arthur is confident that Adam will do a fine job once he rises through his profession. (Really, does anybody in Adam Bede doubt Adam? Do you?) And even though the two men will never stand on the same level socially, there is a strong possibility that they will be collaborators. This possibility excites Arthur himself.

"Well, Mother, I hope thee wilt have her for a daughter; for Seth's got a liking for her, and I hope she'll get a liking for Seth in time."

"Where's th' use o' talkin' a-that'n? She caresna for Seth. She's goin' away twenty mile aff. How's she to get a likin' for him, I'd like to know? No more nor the cake 'ull come wi'out the leaven. Thy figurin' books might ha' tould thee better nor that, I should think, else thee mightst as well read the commin print, as Seth allays does."

"Nay, Mother," said Adam, laughing, "the figures tell us a fine deal, and we couldn't go far without 'em, but they don't tell us about folks's feelings. It's a nicer job to calculate THEM. But Seth's as good-hearted a lad as ever handled a tool, and plenty o' sense, and good-looking too; and he's got the same way o' thinking as Dinah. He deserves to win her, though there's no denying she's a rare bit o' workmanship. You don't see such women turned off the wheel every day." (14.3-5)

Here, Adam and his mother offer differing opinions about Seth's romantic prospects. For Adam, Seth and Dinah seem like a logical pair, and Seth seems fully deserving of such happiness. But Lisbeth disregards this reasoning for one major reason—because Dinah's affections lie elsewhere. Huh. Sounds like ol' Lisbeth has a point.

No sooner had this little plan shaped itself in his mind than he began to be busy with exact calculations about the wood to be bought and the particular article of furniture that should be undertaken first—a kitchen cupboard of his own contrivance, with such an ingenious arrangement of sliding-doors and bolts, such convenient nooks for stowing household provender, and such a symmetrical result to the eye, that every good housewife would be in raptures with it, and fall through all the gradations of melancholy longing till her husband promised to buy it for her. Adam pictured to himself Mrs. Poyser examining it with her keen eye and trying in vain to find out a deficiency; and, of course, close to Mrs. Poyser stood Hetty, and Adam was again beguiled from calculations and contrivances into dreams and hopes. Yes, he would go and see her this evening—it was so long since he had been at the Hall Farm. He would have liked to go to the night-school, to see why Bartle Massey had not been at church yesterday, for he feared his old friend was ill; but, unless he could manage both visits, this last must be put off till to-morrow—the desire to be near Hetty and to speak to her again was too strong. (19.7)

As befits a man of facts and figures, Adam has hopes and dreams that are highly concrete. His specifically developed plans are accompanied by visions of the specific scenes that will occur if his ambitions are fulfilled. This is a man who'd only build a castle in the air if he had a blueprint. Though how would that work, exactly?

She felt nothing but that Arthur was cruel—cruel to write so, cruel not to marry her. Reasons why he could not marry her had no existence for her mind; how could she believe in any misery that could come to her from the fulfillment of all she had been longing for and dreaming of? She had not the ideas that could make up the notion of that misery.

As she threw down the letter again, she caught sight of her face in the glass; it was reddened now, and wet with tears; it was almost like a companion that she might complain to—that would pity her. She leaned forward on her elbows, and looked into those dark overflooding eyes and at the quivering mouth, and saw how the tears came thicker and thicker, and how the mouth became convulsed with sobs.

The shattering of all her little dream-world, the crushing blow on her new-born passion, afflicted her pleasure-craving nature with an overpowering pain that annihilated all impulse to resistance, and suspended her anger. She sat sobbing till the candle went out, and then, wearied, aching, stupefied with crying, threw herself on the bed without undressing and went to sleep. (31.8-10)

Though Hetty's dream world is delusional, she has convinced herself that her fantasies stand a chance of fulfillment. Poor girl. Now that her dreams have collapsed, she is forced to come to terms with her misconceptions. And Eliot provides a symbol of such "self-reflection" by seating Hetty before a looking glass in this scene. Self-reflection in a reflecting mirror. Subtle, Eliot.

Now his real life was beginning; now he would have room and opportunity for action, and he would use them. He would show the Loamshire people what a fine country gentleman was; he would not exchange that career for any other under the sun. He felt himself riding over the hills in the breezy autumn days, looking after favourite plans of drainage and enclosure; then admired on sombre mornings as the best rider on the best horse in the hunt; spoken well of on market-days as a first-rate landlord; by and by making speeches at election dinners, and showing a wonderful knowledge of agriculture; the patron of new ploughs and drills, the severe upbraider of negligent landowners, and withal a jolly fellow that everybody must like—happy faces greeting him everywhere on his own estate, and the neighbouring families on the best terms with him. (44.2)

Arthur envisions a fine future for himself—a future that will place him in a large number of respected roles. Realistic roles, too: not stuff like "multimillionaire astronaut" or "president of the universe." He will deal directly, understandingly, and sometimes severely with his farmers. But he will also garner the admiration of "neighboring families" and become known as man of leisure. That's right; he'll be respected just for chilling out.

That was Adam's state of mind in this second autumn of his sorrow. His work, as you know, had always been part of his religion, and from very early days he saw clearly that good carpentry was God's will—was that form of God's will that most immediately concerned him. But now there was no margin of dreams for him beyond this daylight reality, no holiday-time in the working-day world, no moment in the distance when duty would take off her iron glove and breast-plate and clasp him gently into rest. He conceived no picture of the future but one made up of hard-working days such as he lived through, with growing contentment and intensity of interest, every fresh week. Love, he thought, could never be anything to him but a living memory—a limb lopped off, but not gone from consciousness. (50.28)

Instead of killing Adam's ambitions, tragedy has caused Adam to form new priorities and abandon earlier hopes. He is still an industrious worker. But he no longer conceives of love as a possible reward for his determination. So what will he get at the end of the day? A plastic trophy? A gift certificate to Red Lobster? Nothing?

Something like this sense of enlarged being was in Adam's mind this Sunday morning, as he rode along in vivid recollection of the past. His feeling towards Dinah, the hope of passing his life with her, had been the distant unseen point towards which that hard journey from Snowfield eighteen months ago had been leading him. Tender and deep as his love for Hetty had been—so deep that the roots of it would never be torn away—his love for Dinah was better and more precious to him, for it was the outgrowth of that fuller life which had come to him from his acquaintance with deep sorrow. "It's like as if it was a new strength to me," he said to himself, "to love her and know as she loves me. I shall look t' her to help me to see things right. For she's better than I am—there's less o' self in her, and pride. And it's a feeling as gives you a sort o' liberty, as if you could walk more fearless, when you've more trust in another than y' have in yourself. I've always been thinking I knew better than them as belonged to me, and that's a poor sort o' life, when you can't look to them nearest to you t' help you with a bit better thought than what you've got inside you a'ready." (54.9)

Adam has gained a "fuller life" as a result of his acquaintance with sorrow. Maybe he also got one of those "I sat through a murder trial in Stoniton and all I got was this lousy t-shirt" t-shirts. Anyway, Adam can now take a more enlightened look at his needs. Now, he clearly realizes Dinah's goodness and more fully understands how she can help him lead a better life.