The characters in George Eliot’s fiction display a wide variety of moral stances. She includes some characters whose behavior is so deplorable that they seem nonredeemable, while others seem almost saintly. For the most part, however, Eliot’s characters are very realistic, as they get caught up in difficult, ambiguous situations from which there is no obvious easy way out. They struggle to find a moral path that works for them and, although they often go astray, the noblest, most heroic characters return to a virtuous way of life. These characters may not end up happy, but they earn whatever joy or satisfaction they gain from life. Eliot implies, therefore, that those who succumb to temptation are not necessarily lost; rather, those who overcome adversity gain a deeper appreciation of whatever benefits they ultimately receive.
In Adam Bede, the conflicts between the title character, a working-class man, and his rival, the wealthy elite Arthur Donnithorne, is one central vehicle for Eliot’s exposition of morality. While Adam is clearly meant to be the more worthy suitor of Hetty Sorrel, both he and Arthur have negative qualities. Adam may best correspond to the “rigidity” that the quoted sentence ascribes to Eliot. Initially, he is overly preoccupied with social correctness and shows a narrow interpretation of virtue. Getting beyond these limits to sympathize and help Hetty, Adam gains insight into valuable qualities such as compassion. This change of heart renders him more capable of genuine love, which he finds with Dinah. The reader, not just Adam, is encouraged to understand—even if they cannot forgive—Hetty’s heinous acts.