(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The narrative voice, the drama, Adam’s growth, and Dinah’s loving presence structure the dominant spirit of Adam Bede as sympathetic relation, “our best insight and our best love.” Repeatedly, characters are made realistic by the narrator’s passionate reminders that when counselors fail to reach those they would save from disaster, when young people determine their own downfall, when young men in love misread the feelings of the loved one, when mothers are fearfully possessive toward their sons—when struggling mortals fall short of perfection—such everyday conditions prove the very humanity that should call forth “fellow-feeling.”

Eliot’s technique includes dramatizing the realities of class distinctions in mass gatherings and small groups, showing individuals defined by work relationship or its absence. A tone of reverence suffuses the products and the process of human labor. Scenes alternate between the indoors (the workshop, the Bede home, the rectory, the Hall farm) and the outdoors (the green, the woods, the churchyard, the orchard and garden) picturing the full range of a community. Characters are further developed by contrasts, such as Adam and Seth, Adam and Arthur, Dinah and Hetty, and Dinah and the Reverend Irwine. Ironies abound: Adam has been wrathful toward his derelict father just before finding him drowned; he is cheerfully hopeful about Hetty just before he sees her kissing Arthur; unknowingly, he voices...

(The entire section is 480 words.)