In Adam Bede, how is Hetty is profoundly and eternally selfish?

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The dairy maid Hetty Sorrel is beautiful, vain, and so fixated on herself that she has hardly any awareness of or real sympathy for other people. They are tools to be used by her to satisfy her own needs. Yet while she is a negative character—Eliot tended to dislike the good-looking, spoiled, self-centered young woman—she is not wholly evil and is in many ways more sinned against than sinner.

Her great crime, and one often condemned in the Victorian novel, is to try to use her looks and wiles to rise above her class through marriage. She is a shallow person to be so fixated on wanting the material luxuries of upper class life, but it is not hard to see how a woman who so overly values her own beauty, charms, and needs could deceive herself into thinking that Arthur Donnithorne might marry her. She is foolish to reject the wise and steady Adam Bede, who loves her, and to spurn him for being of her own class. She is foolish, too, to dream that Arthur won't reject her, and she makes a poor, confused decision in abandoning her child—one that, from the outside, makes her look entirely selfish and inhuman.

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Hetty is a young, uneducated girl, who tries to use her beauty and feminine wiles to get what she wants out of life. Lost in the fantasies and dreams of a little girl who wants to live out a Cinderella story, Hetty makes terrible mistakes, including believing that Arthur will marry her and make her into a great lady.

As part of her determination to remain as socially available and to not ruin her chances to find her prince, Hetty commits murder, she leaves her baby, Arthur's baby, to die on the road.  She is guilty of the most horrible crime, abandoning her innocent child out of a desire to return to her former state of being.  Hetty lives in a world dominated by denial and fantasy, not reality and responsibility.

In addition, her selfishness is particularly disturbing with regard to how she treats Adam Bede, a decent, hardworking man who really loves her.  She uses him, and discards him, wounding his heart without care or concern for his feelings.   

Hetty does change at the end of the novel, thanks to the intervention of Dinah, but her crime of murder and her indifference for the feelings of Adam, her materialistic attitude and desire for jewels and fine clothes make her a shallow, selfish girl.

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