Summary of Chapter 4
Adam goes home to a thatched cottage where his mother Lisbeth Bede waits for him. She is tall, vigorous and white-haired. Adam asks for his father and wants to know if he finished the coffin that has to be delivered in the morning. Lisbeth tells him his father went to Treddleston to the tavern and hasn’t come home. Adam is angry, for his father is a drunkard. He refuses his supper, saying he will have to stay up all night to finish the coffin. He threatens to run away from home, for he has had to shoulder all the responsibility for the family for the last few years when he would like to save money for a home of his own. Lisbeth begins whining and complaining that they would have to go to the workhouse.
When Seth comes home, Lisbeth takes out her feelings on the younger and milder son, for Adam is proud and aloof. Seth reminds his mother that Adam has never let the family down, and he won’t leave them. Lisbeth complains that Adam loves Hetty Sorrel when he should marry Mary Burge and then inherit the Burge workshop. Seth offers to help Adam work, but Adam enjoys working; it settles down his anger. He reflects that though he has a heavy burden, he has a strong back to bear it. He understands that life is not about just taking care of oneself. He hears strange knocks on the door in the middle of the night and remembers it is a sign of death. In the morning, when Seth and Adam deliver the finished coffin, they find their father’s body in the brook. He drowned on his way home.
Commentary on Chapter 4
The narrator uses the events to explain a larger view of life to the reader, showing how, though people are unaware, characters and events are interconnected. For instance, Adam may be a good man, but he cannot escape the taint of his family. He has to carry his father’s sins, as in Greek tragedy; the hero has to work through the family fate. Adam talks about running away, but he knows that will not work. He must see the family fortune through, and he is thankful he is strong. The narrator finds it ironic that family blood both unites and separates, for though Adam is connected to his parents, he has a “large-hearted intelligence” (p. 41) that is beyond either of them.
Adam is closest to his brother, a dreamer but a kind and generous man. Both parents are a trial to him that he tries to bear as best he can. His mother is peevish and clinging and does not want her sons to marry and displace her. She is a good mother and housewife but has no independent spirit of her own. Adam unfortunately seems to be seeking a similar wife in the pretty but vacant Hetty Sorrel. His mother is no doubt right that it would be a disastrous match, but Seth reminds her that a man can’t always help where he loves, as he has just found out himself with Dinah.