Study Guide

Totty in Adam Bede

By George Eliot


Every time Totty pops up, Adam Bede reads like a 19th-century version of Rugrats. Just take it from Totty's mother, Mrs. Poyser:

"The child's allays i' mischief if your back's turned a minute. What shall I do to you, you naughty, naughty gell?" (6.78)

Good question. Being a three- or four-year-old, Totty Poyser can cause quite a ruckus. But can you really hold it against her? Or against the Rugrats? These kids probably don't know the alphabet, but they do know how to make disorderliness loveable.

We don't get to see what Totty thinks of Hetty's crime or the Poysers' changing fortunes. And that's the point. Adam Bede gives the time of day to characters that most novels wouldn't give a second look. On the one hand, paying attention to Totty gives readers a fascinating example of Eliot's realism. That realism is all about focusing on characters who aren't heroic or accomplished. And what four-year-old qualifies as a hero? Or a canny observer of society, for that matter? So Eliot holds up Totty, but gives Totty a realistically limited perspective… a realistically limited, hilarious perspective.