Literature Study GuidesAdam BedeBook 3 Chapters 22 24 Summary

Adam Bede | Study Guide

George Eliot

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Adam Bede | Book 3, Chapters 22–24 | Summary



Chapter 22: Going to the Birthday Feast

Captain Arthur Donnithorne's 21st birthday has arrived, about six weeks since the beginning of the story. Everyone in two parishes has been invited to a great feast, with most of the activity taking place on the Chase, the expanse of unenclosed land near the Donnithorne estate. The narrator notes that Arthur has, by now, given Hetty gifts of earrings and a locket. She puts the locket on a chain of berries long enough to hide under her dress.

The gallery of the house has reserved seating for the "large tenants," among whom are the Poysers. Arthur informs Mr. Irwine that his grandfather has decided to employ Adam to superintend the woods, and that Adam has accepted the position. Arthur plans to announce the appointment at the feast.

Chapter 23: Dinnertime

Adam has been invited to dine upstairs in the gallery with the large tenants, leaving his mother and brother below in the cloisters. He feels somewhat uncomfortable, but Seth encourages him. Bartle Massey is also among the preferred guests in the gallery. After some bickering about who will sit at the head of the table, the honor falls to the younger Mr. Martin Poyser, Rachel Poyser's husband. Hetty, annoyed by Totty and showing her annoyance, flirts with Adam at the table after Totty returns to her mother's side. Hetty does this only because she knows Mary Burge, "a good girl, not given to indulge in evil feelings," is in love with Adam and is looking on. Mary has been hoping Hetty's petulance would be distasteful to Adam, but he is charmed by it.

Chapter 24: The Health-Drinking

When the dinner is over, Mr. Poyser makes a speech praising Arthur and toasts him with ale from a large cask. Arthur drinks to the health of his grandfather and then announces Adam's appointment to the woods. Mr. Irwine also speaks publicly in praise of Arthur, whom he tutored for several years, as well as in praise of Adam Bede. Adam then gets up to thank his friends, particularly Arthur, identifying him as someone who "wishes to do the right thing." The celebration disconcerts Hetty, who feels the gulf between herself and the heir to the Donnithorne estate.


These chapters detailing Arthur Donnithorne's birthday dinner underline the distinctions of class, despite the captain's seemingly jolly "hail fellow well met" approach to the tenants. The seating for the party has been carefully planned. Adam and his brother are poor artisans, so his family sits in the lower cloisters, but because Adam will be given the job to manage the woods, he has been elevated to sit with the more important tenants like the Poysers, who are higher up on the class ladder. Because they rent the land and do not own it, the Poysers are not yeoman farmers, but they have been farming there for generations and have accumulated a certain amount of wealth. Bartle Massey is an educated man—the village schoolteacher—so his status is also higher than Adam Bede's family's. Mary Burge and her father sit with the preferred guests because Mr. Burge is a prosperous businessman who runs the carpentry shop as well as an artisan. Hetty Sorrel gets the benefit of the Poysers' higher status by being her uncle's ward, but she has no status of her own as a poor relation. All these arrangements of the hierarchy are obviously the way things have always been done in terms of status for the various parts of the population, and there is no sense it will change at any point soon, or even that anyone is consciously looking to do so. But the story does show that there are tensions beneath the surface in the individual lives and that there can be consequences.

Hetty has been distracted for much of the party, thinking of Arthur. Suddenly, at the end of the toasting "a moment of chill daylight and reality [comes] across her dream" as she is forced to view the gulf that exists between her and the captain. He cannot acknowledge her at the dinner, merely bowing to her when he passes: "Arthur, who has seemed so near to her only a few hours before, was separated from her, as the hero of a great procession is separated from a small outsider in the crowd."

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