Literature Study GuidesAdam BedeBook 4 Chapters 27 29 Summary

Adam Bede | Study Guide

George Eliot

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Adam Bede | Book 4, Chapters 27–29 | Summary



Chapter 27: A Crisis

In the third week of August, Adam is heading to the Chase Farm to see about some repairs. To get home faster he takes a shortcut through the Grove of beech trees and suddenly sees two figures beginning to kiss. Adam's dog, Gyp, interrupts them. Hetty quickly goes through the gate to leave the Grove, and Arthur Donnithorne approaches, attempting to make light of what Adam witnessed, explaining he and Hetty met by chance. Adam, however, is not fooled and now understands the meaning of the locket. The carpenter gives the captain a rough lecture, calling him a "light-minded scoundrel." Adam knows what it means for a man of Arthur's standing to make love to a dairymaid and give her secret presents. Arthur has filled Hetty's mind with notions and thus has thwarted Adam's chances with her. Although he doesn't suspect the worst—sexual intimacy—Adam provokes the captain into a physical fight and then bloodies him, immediately regretting his action when he thinks the man may be dead.

Chapter 28: A Dilemma

Captain Donnithorne regains consciousness after being knocked out momentarily, and Adam, relieved Arthur is still alive, helps him into the nearby Hermitage. At Arthur's request, Adam runs to the house to get some brandy, and while he is gone Donnithorne puts Hetty's neckerchief at the bottom of the wastepaper basket. Adam apologizes for losing his temper, although he won't apologize for calling the captain out on his behavior. Arthur apologizes for unknowingly ruining Adam's chances with Hetty and perhaps turning her head, but still he makes light of his flirtation and then tells Adam he is going away on Saturday. Adam demands he write Hetty a letter telling her the truth—that he can never marry her. He also demands Donnithorne never see her again or else tell him she can never be Adam's wife. The captain doesn't immediately commit himself to either choice, saying, "I can do what I think needful in the matter ... without giving promises to you. I shall take what measures I think proper." At the end, however, Adam's persistence and Arthur's physical weakness cause Arthur to agree to Adam's demand.

Chapter 29: The Next Morning

A man of kind and generous nature, Captain Donnithorne has no choice but to admit to himself he has been misleading Hetty, especially when he thinks about how she has mentioned marriage. Donnithorne is due to join his regiment, and Adam caught him and Hetty in the midst of their parting. Now it seems cruel to write a letter that would rob Hetty of all hope; yet, destroying her hope could make way for a new relationship with Adam. At the same time, he has "deceived [Adam] in a way that Arthur would have resented as a deep wrong if it had been practiced on himself." To protect Hetty, however, he feels he cannot tell the truth. In the end he decides to write the letter, having it delivered to Adam with an enclosed note in which he asks Adam to decide whether to give Hetty the bad news. Not usually prone to inaction, Adam considers this decision carefully.


Adam Bede's moral courage is apparent in his treatment of Captain Donnithorne, a man very much above him in rank. Donnithorne has been Adam's friend without respect to class, and since the old Squire hired Adam to manage the woods, he now owes Arthur an additional obligation as an employee of the family. Moreover, Adam is extremely aware of class boundaries and respectful of them—for example, he generally addresses Arthur Donnithorne as "sir" even though Arthur is the younger man. Yet Adam gives full vent to his outrage. Certainly the most important part of it is connected with his own love for Hetty. But Adam has held the younger Donnithorne in the highest regard for as long as he can remember, and now he must admit he has behaved dishonorably. "For the rest of his life he remembers that moment when he was calmly examining the beech," the narrator says, "as a man remembers his last glimpse of the home where his youth was passed, before the road turned, and he saw it no more."

The scales from Adam's eyes have now fallen, and he fully understands the meaning of the locket and Hetty's terror when it went flying. He doesn't know the full extent of relations between Arthur and Hetty, but when Donnithorne tries to pass off his behavior as harmless flirtation, Adam forces him to face up to the meaning of his actions. He fearlessly calls him "a coward and a scoundrel," saying he despises him, which is enough to force Donnithorne to throw the first punch.

In being forced to write a letter to Hetty, Donnithorne is also required to choose the best moral action going forward through the mess he has made. On the one hand, he is not keen to write to Hetty because he doesn't want to give her up so soon. In addition, he fears the effect of completely robbing her of hope for the future. On the other hand, he now knows Adam loves Hetty, and perhaps making a clean break with her will open a path of happiness for both Hetty and his friend. Yet Arthur cannot tell Adam the entire truth about his secret relationship. As a gentleman, he has the obligation to protect Hetty from scandal. As a friend to Adam, he has an obligation to let him know the object of his love has been sullied—such is the way sexual relations were viewed by men: women were not much better than property to be owned by men, and they put a high price on female virginity. Donnithorne doesn't further muddy the waters because he is not used to this type of interaction with others. But he leaves the decision of whether to deliver the letter to Hetty in Adam's hands, perhaps an act of cowardice—or mere indecisiveness, or simply trying to cause as little damage as possible. Knowing Adam to be less hesitant than he, and morally more upright, he thinks Adam will know whether hurting Hetty now is better than keeping her hopes up. Arthur cannot go beyond that point, no matter his social standing, showing an immature lack of responsibility toward those who have no rights over him.

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