Summary of Chapter 42: The Morning of the Trial
Adam does not go to the trial in the morning but waits till Bartle comes to him at lunchtime to hear about it. He has thought of seeing Hetty because it might melt her hardness if someone forgave her, but still he is afraid to see her in her changed state. The narrator says that the kind of unbearable suffering Adam experiences can be a baptism into a new state of life. He feels as if he is just waking up. He goes through a fire baptism into a new pity.
Bartle tells him about the court scene as he tries to get Adam to eat bread and drink wine. The court is filled with spectators. The doctor has testified as to whether she had borne a child, and Martin Poyser testified. It was so hard on Martin that Bartle tells Adam he must be a friend to Poyser now. They made Poyser look at his niece, and she trembled and hid her face in her hands. Mr. Irwine took care of Martin in the courtroom. Irwine will also be a witness on Hetty’s behalf.
Adam keeps asking about the other evidence, and Bartle says he cannot hide the fact that the doctor’s evidence has been hard on her, though she still denies having a child. Adam asks if there is anyone to stand by her in the court? Bartle says only the chaplain. Adam says one man should be there, but since he is not, Adam says he will go. “I’ll stand by her—I’ll own her”(p. 430). Adam admits that he used to be hard, but he will never be hard again. Suddenly, he looks like his old self.
Commentary on Chapter 42
This chapter is important for showing Adam’s conversion to a new sense of humanity. He was always a good man, but the narrator says that suffering can be an awakening to a new unselfishness and pity. This baptism of Adam’s once again reminds one of Paradise Lost where Adam and Eve have to learn how to be good in a fallen state, how to feel love and compassion for one another, instead of blame. It is to be contrasted, however, with Hetty’s response of hardness. Adam’s suffering makes him reach out; hers shuts her down. She cannot admit she did anything wrong, and so therefore, no forgiveness and growth can take place.
Adam grows to maturity here by putting aside his old moral harshness and deciding to stand by Hetty, even if she committed the crime. He will own her, not be ashamed of her, like her uncle. This is true Christian behavior and more like what Dinah Morris would do. Even his look changes after he softens. He is now closer to the ethic that Bartle announces in this chapter as he praises Mr. Irwine for helping Martin Poyser: “It’s a great thing in a man’s life to be able to stand by his neighbor” (p. 430).