A compact whole: The plot of AB is much better constructed than that of many other contemporary novels. This is so because the novel was not published in parts. It was not serialized in a magazine. There is not a single character or even in the whole of novel which doesn’t further its action. The novel is a compact whole. It is like a well-constructed building from not even a single brick can be taken out without damaging the whole structure. The novels are GEORGE ELIOT are ‘organic wholes’ in as much as the story, the character, the social environment are well-integrated. In AB, the life of Hayslope envelops the tragedy. It is an active society in which most men or women have work to and their characters are affected by that work.
Integrated Four stories and thematic unity: GEORGE ELIOT was quite alive to the problem of plot-construction. There are four different stories in the novel: (a) Adam-Hetty love story, (b) Hetty-Arthur love story, (c) Adam-Dinah love story and (d) the mutual relations of Arthur and Adam. The problem was how to integrate the four stories into a single whole. The story of Hetty, the heroine of the novel who is seduced by the Squire and later convicted of a child murder forms the core of the novel. The inter-linking of the various stories is made possible by the relation of Adam and Arthur to each other and to Hetty and the marriage of Adam and Dinah rounds up the whole and satisfies the contemporary conventions by linking the lives of the hero and heroine at the close. Even integrating the four stories has not kept away from the thematic unity of the novel. The theme is furthered by each action and event caused by the characters. The story grows up like a plant out of the idea or theme that, a failure to resist temptation is a moral weakness and any yielding to temptation is sure to followed divine punishment and consequent suffering. This theme is interlinked with the theme of moral enlightenment, self- education and regeneration. Such are the themes out of which the story evolves step-by-step, logically and the characters are their stories are exposition and illustration of these themes and ideas.
Social environment & the central tragedy: the central tragedy is intimately connected with this background. The full effect of Arthur Donnithorne’s yielding to the sensuous appeal of the pretty child-like Hetty depends on the relationship of the two to the world. The pride and well-grounded self-respect of the Poysers established in the reader’s mind by the vivid pictures of their surroundings, their working, their home life, their Sunday observance and the neighbors’ opinion of them, all play their part in causing the tragedy and in heightening the bitterness of its effect. It is the social background that the Poysers have provided for their niece and the standard of conduct that make it inevitable for Hetty to take flight before the birth of her baby; it is the esteem in which they are held by which the reader measures their shame. Similarly, it is Arthur’s upbringing, his relations with his grandfather, his high conception of love and esteem, he will earn from all his dependants when he inherits the land that explain the price he pays for the weakness and his suffering. Not only are the story and characters integrated with their social environment, they are well-integrated in the present novel with their physical world. They are symbolic of it. They have the softness and fertility of Loamshire and it hardness, its spiritual deadness. They are not receptive to religion, for their life of ease and self-indulgence has made them spiritually dead. Dinah serves as a link between the two physical worlds. She has come from Stonyshire, rocky, hard and barren, but the people there are more receptive to religion, they are spiritually better alive. So whenever she feels that she is going to be engulfed by the spiritual deadness of Loamshire, she retires to Stonyshire. It is also to be noted that nature-background changes in keeping with the change in the fortunes of poor Hetty. Her early happy life is lived in the physical environment of Hayslope; from here she goes to the barren and rocky Stonyshire where she is convicted and sentenced to death.
Major Flaws and Ending of the novel: Even best of us have their faults and weaknesses so does Adam Bede. Despite being the best constructed novel in the world, its ending has come in for a great deal of criticism. It has been pointed out that the marriage of Adam and Dinah Morris is not properly motivated, so it seems unnatural and forced. It is merely conventional that Hero and Heroin must be united at the close. George Eliot is first a philosopher and her critical and intellectual ability often impedes her artistry in telling a story. The author’s commentary sometimes holds up the story and makes it labored. For example, the writer labels Hetty as the sinner and she considers Adam and Dinah well-nigh perfect, but the modern reader finds Adam a bore and Dinah an impossibly perfect.
Melodrama: The fight between Adam and Arthur in the wood is melodramatic and it was introduced at the suggestion of George Lewes. The story of seduction, a child-murder and conviction of an innocent girl, is the common stuff of a cheap melodrama. According to Robert Speaight, “Too much space has been taken up building up the background. (Give examples of her images and criticize.)” Joan Bennett says, “If the characterization of Dinah partially fails to produce the effect intended, it is not because she is too virtuous but because of the author’s treatment of the subject.” Dinah is afraid to accept Adam because she thinks that her love would come in the way of her vocation. She retreats to Stoniton to ponder over the issue and accepts Adam when she meets him at the top of hill in Stoniton. Obviously, a change has come over her. But we are not permitted to see the process of this change and this is a major flaw in Dinah-Adam love story.
Arthur James sit eh severest critic of the close of the novel and his criticism is an epitome of all such criticism. He remarks, “The central figure of the novel is Hetty Sorrel and the story should have ended with the conviction of Hetty. The continuation of the story after the point is fatal to the artistry integrity of the novel. His marriage with Dinah waters off the real sorrow for the tragedy of Hetty. As matter of fact, the further end of the story is a matter for another novel.” Lettice Cooper’s comments are worth-noting here, “The weakness of the book, besides the oppressive virtue of Adam and Dinah is, as with many Victorian Novels, the sacrifice and probability to plot, and the tidiness of the ending. GEORGE ELIOT was moving towards a new kind of novel in which representation of life was to be more important than the plot. Despite all these life-like and natural situations and atmosphere drawn in AB, the marriage between Adam and Dinah seems like a mechanical device to round off the story.” However, Joan Bennett justifies the marriage of Adam and Dinah on the ground that it enables the novelist to put the last touch to her definition of Adam’s character. , to make him realize that there was too much of self and pride in him. A better justification fro the close of the novel is that life at Hayslope had been shaken and disturbed by the drama of Hetty and it has returned to normalcy because of Adam-Dinah marriage. George Creeger points out that Dinah-Adam marriage is not an anti-climax, but it essential, otherwise Dinah and Adam would remain incomplete human beings, for there can be no fulfillment without love. It also enables the novelist to point out the moral that common suffering results in sympathy and it is sympathy which is the basis of true love story. Sorrow is needed to make love true and lasting.
Conclusion: The novel has its faults, but they are minor faults and they in no way detract from the novelist’s skill in construction. It should be judged in the context of the age in which it was written and not by modern standards.