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Adam Bede | Study Guide

George Eliot

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Adam Bede | Symbols



Cherries and other soft fruit with pits symbolize Hetty Sorrel. On the outside Hetty is soft, sweet, and beautiful. But on the inside is a hard, unloving core. The narrator notes, "people who love downy peaches are apt not to think of the stone, and sometimes jar their teeth terribly against it." When asking Adam, who has an "iron will," whether he always knows with certainty what is right, Arthur notes weaker men like him "may determine not to gather any cherries and keep our hands sturdily in our pockets, but we can't prevent our mouths from watering."

When Adam visits the Hall Farm, he finds Hetty and Totty out in the orchard among the cherry trees. The cherry metaphor returns in Chapter 31 after Hetty receives the rejection from Arthur Donnithorne and asks her uncle if she can leave the farm to work elsewhere. Hurt because Hetty wants to leave the family, Mrs. Poyser tells her husband she is "like a fool ... for thinking aught about [Hetty], as is no better nor a cherry wi' a hard stone inside it."

The Grove

The Grove, a large stand of beech trees near the Chases' and the Donnithornes' home, is the place where Hetty and Arthur often meet in secret. The dark, sequestered area is reflective of their hidden affair. On the night Adam sees Hetty and Arthur together, they are kissing in the Grove. Adam then beats Arthur in the Grove. After Hetty's trial and sentence, the two men run into each other again in the Grove. Their meeting this time in this symbolic location could be said to reflect the beginning of their renewed friendship and the beginning of healing from the earlier events that took place here. It is dark and, in fact, dangerous to human relationships, which are far more complex than a picturesque grove of trees.


Mirrors in the novel symbolize illusion and the illusory aspect of external appearances. The narrator announces in the first sentence how a single drop of ink will serve as a mirror to reveal "visions of the past." The ink is at the end of his pen, of course, and the mirror he will hold up is created with words written in ink. Thus, the narrator calls attention to his creating a story that mirrors reality. While he claims to represent the past, all he can do is represent his own vision, and this external appearance is necessarily an illusion that represents a small corner of the truth.

The characters, too, are reflected in mirrors. The narrator catches Arthur Donnithorne in front of his mirror, no doubt looking at the man he purports to be while he attempts to talk himself out of the affair on which he is about to embark. Another man, so to speak, inside him and not accessible to the mirror, carries out his "crime" against a young dairymaid. The mirror shows the external reflection of the man he would like to think he is, but he ignores it in favor of his lustful appetites. The novel as a mirror has its limitations in terms of what the author can accomplish.

Hetty, more obviously, since she lives only for appearance as she both sees and embroiders it, objects to the mirror in her room, which has blotches and is fixed in an upright position, not allowing her to get multiple views of herself. In her mind the mirror distorts her appearance. The distorted mirror, however, may be seen to reflect the distortion of Hetty's mind and spirit. Beautiful on the outside, she would like a smooth mirror to reflect the pretty surface. However, the distorted mirror may well be a more accurate reflection of Hetty Sorrel, for the beautiful image she presents to the world is at odds with her calculating and somewhat amoral nature, which is less than lovely. When Adam sees himself in this mirror, he projects onto Hetty all the qualities that exist only in himself.

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