Introduction: Critic after critic has expressed that Adam is too good to be sure. It is said he is a perfect human being, GEORGE ELIOT’s ideal, fully matured and enlightened from the beginning. But the truth is otherwise. A moment’s reflection shows that he is proud, hard and self-righteous with little sympathy for ordinary sinners like most common people. As a matter of fact, the novel traces that process by which he gradually sheds his faults – of his education, enlightenment and maturity though a process of suffering and love and becomes a complete man towards the end. The process of his education occupies the center of the novel.
Hard, Proud and Self-righteous: There can be no denying the fact that Adam is hard and self-righteous. In the first chapter we are told, “The idle tramps always felt sure they could get a copper from Seth; they scarcely ever spoke to Adam” This is a flaw, if not serious one, in Adam’s innocence, his confidence that he is righteous and soft for every one. He doesn’t knowingly wrong any one, but he doesn’t hesitate to hurt. He is convinced of the clarity of his vision and his understanding, “I’ve seen pretty clear, ever since I could cast up a sum.” The process of his education and self-realization starts from the encounter between Arthur and Hetty (give details). George Creeger says, “Adam may be intelligent, diligent, loyal and trustworthy, but he is not yet a matured man. This is so because head overweighs the heart. He is stern, stiff and harsh, intolerant, huffy and humorless. He gradually learns the ropes of life.” The reason is that Adam is not fully involved emotionally with either his father or Arthur. Therefore, he can neither participate in their plight nor understand it. What is necessary for Adam is that he should get his heart-strings bound round the weak and erring, but their inward suffering. Precisely, such an emotional involvement exists for Adam in his relationship with Hetty. The relationship is not a rational one; rather it is a passion which overmasters him. Adam’s heart-strings are bound fast to Hetty.
His suffering: As a result of his emotional involvement, Adam suffers and learns to share the suffering of others. He suffers when he thinks that Hetty has run away to Arthur to avoid the approaching marriage and he suffers still more when he learns that Hetty has been arrested for her child-murder. He suffers from deep spiritual anguish, but his response is different from that of Hetty where she sank into passivity and inaction and he behaved the otherwise and lusts for revenge. Hetty’s hardness is due to selfishness, so she has no will, but Adam’s hardness is due to pride she he remains active.
Regeneration through Agents:
At this crisis in his life there is yet the possibility for regeneration through a human agent exercising the power of love. Adam’s suffering is indeed a precondition for his regeneration. The agent is a double one. Mr. Irwine and Bartle Massey are both fully matured men. They do what they can to help Adam in his misery. Sensing in him a potential for violence and a desire to take revenge on Arthur, they seek to divert him. Irwine uses the power of reason, arguing that to injure Arthur will not help Hetty and that passionate violence will lead only to another crime. Adam agrees, but it is not full acceptance. The full acceptance is brought about by Bartle Massey. The scene takes place in Stoniton and Adam comes here to comprehend the necessity for compassion and forgiveness in life and thereby achieves what GEORGE ELIOT calls an awakening to “full consciousness” and participates in a kind of symbolic supper. Before relating the latest news of Hetty’s trial Bartle says, “I must see to your having a bit of the loaf. I must have a bit and a sup myself. Drink a drop with me, my lad.” At first, Adam’s feelings are bitter for his own sufferings and his is first in his revenge, but as Bartle speaks, his hardness melts and he gradually declares that he will go to the court and stand by Hetty. Adam also took a morsel and drank some wine sent by Mr. Irwine and stood upright again looked more like the Adam Bede of the former days.
Education through Suppers: GEORGE ELIOT was an intellectual and philosophical novelist and is much influenced by the views of Feuerbach whose The Essence of Christianity she translated into English. Feuerbach points out the religious significance of water, wine and bread. For him these agents are sacred. Water is sacred for it reminds us the common factor between the rich and the poor. So water is symbolic of our oneness with nature. This is the symbolic significance of baptism. Wine and bread are material though provided by nature; demonstrate man’s superiority over the low creatures. Hence, the sacrament of baptism in which only water is used is for the children, the immature and the Lord’s Supper in which wine is drunk and bread is taken is for the mature and the grown-up, symbolic of his manhood, of his distinction from the animals. Hunger and thirst destroy man’s humanity, taking of bread and wine restores to him his humanity. This truth is symbolically demonstrated in the novel through suppers which restore to Adam his humanity, his mental and moral powers conducing to his social, personal and moral education. In the first supper, Adam finishes the coffin which his father has failed to complete. He refuses to eat the food that his mother offers to him, but allows his hungry dog to devour his. Soon he calls for light and a draught of water and admits that he is getting very thirsty. Adam works on, unaware that the intoxicated father to whom he feels to superior has died a watery death. The symbol of water like the parallel between man and dog is designed to remind Adam of his origin from Nature, “an origin which we have in common with plants and animals.” Adam’s ignorance of the second rule manifests itself at the supper which takes place during the young Squire’s birthday feast. Adam sits upstairs at the Squire’s table, no longer drinking water, but the rich Loamshire ale. He accepts a toast in which Arthur Donnithorne, the seducer of Adam’s bride, wishes him to have “sons as faithful and clever as himself.” The irony is obvious. Proud of his new capacity as keeper of the woods, Adam must still learn that his full humanity can only be celebrated though his distinction from nature. Arthur and Hetty, the natural creatures he surprises in the woods he keeps, force upon him that suffering which alone can elevate man above the lower creatures. The last and the most significant supper in this symbolic sequence marks the attainment of maturity on Adam’s part.
Regeneration & Maturity of Adam through love: Adam’s decision to stand by Hetty, an expression of his old love for her and his new willingness to involve his life with the suffering of others, has two consequences. It leads to his being able to forgive Arthur and it makes him capable of a new sort of love. He realizes that truth that “Love doesn’t exist without sympathy and sympathy does not exist without suffering in common”. For many the love which subsequently grows between Dinah and Adam (as well as their marriage) seems an anti-climax. While granting that GEORGE ELIOT has some difficulty in focusing that conclusion. Henry James, “I cannot agree that it is an artistic weakness. Without is one is left with two of the principal figures – Adam and Dinah still incomplete human beings. They have suffered in common. They have in common the painful memories of Hetty; such common suffering gives rise to mutual sympathy. Love follows such sympathy and it is in the fitness of things that they should come together and get married.” This love leads to the fulfillment of his personality, and the process of his growth and maturity is completed. There is now a full integration of head and heart.