Summary of Chapter 9: Hetty’s World
The narrator decides to go beyond Hetty’s pretty exterior to see what kind of a person she is inside. This chapter tracks her thoughts about what is going on around her, but unfortunately, the narrator concludes that Hetty does not have a very large range to her soul. She is mostly concerned with her own material desires. She knows very well that she has suitors. Luke Britton of Broxton comes to church at Hayslope so he can see her. Mr. Craig the gardener at the Chase is wooing her with strawberries, and Adam Bede, who has been invited to Hall Farm for the last three years, is the one favored by her family as having brains. Hetty seems unaware of what she owes her aunt and uncle. She is an orphan, and would have been a servant someplace without their support. Her uncle hopes she will make a good marriage with Adam, who, he knows, will rise by his merits.
Hetty only sees Adam as another conquest and enjoys having him in her power. With Arthur’s attentions, however, she is already dreaming of greater things. She thinks only of what a man could give her, and she begins to live in a pleasant daydream of how Arthur has looked at her. An uneducated girl, she only thinks of the young squire as a god in her world. She has no sympathy beyond her own situation.
On the way to the Bede cottage, Arthur confesses to Irwine how pretty he finds Hetty. Irwine warns him not to flatter her or it will make her unfit for a husband of her own class. Arthur changes the subject.
Commentary on Chapter 9
Arthur is clearly warned by Mr. Irwine in the early stages of his attentions to Hetty that flattering Hetty is wrong, and why it is wrong. The point that she will be made unfit as a wife for someone else goes right by Arthur because it is beyond his sympathy, as Hetty’s idea of others is beyond hers. Irwine means that it would make a servant like Hetty less happy with a poor man, but he also could be delicately hinting about her reputation. A future poor husband is just as jealous of a woman’s honor as the rich, as Arthur will find out. Even though he has been raised among these farmers and has been taught carpentry by Adam, Arthur comes from a privileged class and has no distinct feeling for the honor of the classes below him, except in terms of chivalry. At his birthday party, for instance, he is capable of making the farmers feel appreciation, but it is a shallow knowledge of their world, their morals, and their feelings. Hetty is a kitten, a plaything, and he is a rich young man used to having his way. Like Hetty, he does not think too far ahead; in fact, he continually fools himself into thinking nothing is going to happen between them.
Eliot’s omniscient narration allows us into the thoughts of the characters so that we can observe how people delude themselves and misread others. This is a greater danger to unreflecting and selfish people, like Hetty and Arthur, but as we see in this chapter, it is also a danger to a man of integrity and brains like Adam Bede. The reader sees that he is headed for a fall with Hetty, that she is shallow, and her attention is elsewhere. In this way, the suspense builds, with much foreshadowing of the tragedy we watch in the making.