Literature Study GuidesAdam BedeBook 1 Chapters 1 3 Summary

Adam Bede | Study Guide

George Eliot

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Adam Bede | Book 1, Chapters 1–3 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 1: The Workshop

Comparing himself to Egyptian diviners who used ink as a sort of creative mirror, the narrator promises to use the ink of his pen to reveal the past—beginning on June 18, 1799. The reader is invited to enter the workshop of five carpenters in the rural village of Hayslope. Inside are 26-year-old Adam Bede, the tall and handsome lead carpenter; his brother Seth, three years his junior; Jim Salt, known as Sandy Jim; Ben Cranage, known as Wiry Ben; and old Mum Taft. The men work for the builder Jonathan Burge. Wiry Ben begins teasing Seth, who forgot to put panels on the door he just finished. Ben says he must have been thinking of the pretty Methodist woman who will be preaching out-of-doors that evening. Adam steps in to defend his brother, even seizing Wiry Ben by his shoulders until Seth tells Adam to "let be," for Wiry Ben means no harm. Adam also criticizes the other men for throwing down their tools as soon as they hear the clock chime six, saying they should have more pride and delight in their work than wanting to quit it at the first possible moment.

Chapter 2: The Preaching

The two fictional counties in which the novel takes place are introduced: Loamshire, a "rich undulating district" of which Hayslope is part, and Stonyshire, with treeless, barren hills. Many people, mostly out of curiosity, have come to hear young Dinah Morris preach on the village green. A stranger talks with Mr. Casson, the pub landlord, both men agreeing women should not be preachers.

Dinah speaks from the heart, simply and without pretense. She is small, but forceful, dressed plainly in black, with her hair covered in a Quaker cap. Dinah preaches "in mellow treble tones" with great conviction and "arrest[s] her hearers." She speaks mostly of God's love and the promise of redemption for all, but she also threatens her audience. Jesus "stands ready to help you now," she says, but if "you won't have him to be your Savior, he will be your judge." If people turn away, he will turn away from them on judgment day, saying "Depart from me into everlasting fire!" Her words and gentle manner cause some members of her audience to weep.

Chapter 3: After the Preaching

Seth Bede, also a Methodist, takes the opportunity to walk Dinah back to the Hall Farm, where she is visiting with her aunt and uncle. She plans to return home to Snowfield in Stonyshire on the weekend. Seth declares his love for Dinah, saying he will support her work if she becomes his wife. But Dinah says she has been called to minister to others and can't think of leading a private life. Such a marriage would not be God's will, she tells the sorrowful Seth.

Analysis

The novel opens in a carpentry workshop and immediately announces an important theme of the novel: work is a reflection of character. Adam Bede is bothered by the attitude of his fellow carpenters, who seem to be working only to earn money rather than to produce an item of value they can be proud of and that other people can use. Adam's approach to work is to bring his very best to the task at hand. Work not only creates existential meaning in a person's life, but it also reflects their moral values. Do they cut corners? Do they take the easy way out? Do they cover up their mistakes rather than rectify them? If people are dishonest in their work, they are likely dishonest in other areas of life as well. Adam is immediately shown as an upright man who understands morality applies to the way people do their tasks and jobs. As the novel progresses, Adam will be given greater responsibility because people know he can be trusted.

Another important theme introduced in the first chapters is the Edenic world of preindustrial England, although the lush hills of Loamshire probably are less like Eden than like the biblical land of Goshen, which is how Dinah refers to Hayslope in Chapter 2. Given to the Israelites by the Egyptians, Goshen was not a paradise but a fertile land where people could increase their prosperity by working hard. Indeed, people in Hayslope do work hard and prosper. At the same time, Hayslope represents a somewhat paradisiacal past for the narrator—and the author—before the Industrial Revolution totally overtook rural England, ushering in the modern area that began and intensified with the Victorians. George Eliot wrote at that key transitional period.

Hayslope and its surrounding villages of Broxton and Treddleston, located in the county of Loamshire, are juxtaposed with Snowfield, where Dinah lives, near the larger town of Stoniton, both located in Stonyshire. The actual geography George Eliot associates with these two areas, about 20 to 30 miles apart, are the towns of Derby and Ellastone in the north of England, not far from the cities of Manchester and Leeds. This part of England would eventually become a center of industrialization. Derby itself is considered by some to be the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, so it makes sense that Dinah works in a mill in Snowfield. The two shires, with their obvious contrasting symbolism of names, represent old, lush, rural England (Loamshire) and the unappealing treeless, gray, industrial land (Stonyshire), in its infant stages when the novel begins in 1799.

Although Dinah is often thought of as a saintly character—and she is seen as a saint, or at least as an ideal Christian woman by all the characters in the novel—there is something of a dark side to her religion. Eliot condemned the harsh dogma of Calvinist Christianity, and Dinah does have a streak of strong opinion, despite her sweet, rich voice, in predicting the damnation of sinners who do not repent. Moreover, Herbert notes a "perverse enthusiasm" in Dinah's dwelling on the crucifixion of Jesus. As the novel progresses, Dinah's attachment to suffering in the people she hopes to save is somewhat questionable, and the author deliberately juxtaposes her approach with that of Mr. Irwine's more personal and tolerant one. Both may have their good and bad points in the full representation of religion given in the book.

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