Summary of Chapter 15: The Two Bed-Chambers
Hetty and Dinah have rooms next to each other on the second story of the house. Hetty has locked herself in her room and taken out two candles, lighting them so she can see herself in an old blotched mirror. She admires herself more now that Captain Donnithorne is in love with her. Taking out some finery she hides from her aunt, she tries on cheap earrings and a bit of torn lace. She brushes her hair and makes it look like a picture of a lady she has seen. She is certain Arthur will not want her to work but will want to marry her and make a lady of her. She imagines herself in a carriage and what Mary Burge will think. Parading up and down in front of the mirror, she drops her hand mirror with a bang.
The narrator skillfully switches from Hetty’s fantasies to Adam’s. Adam knows that Hetty would make a loving wife and mother. No man believes a pretty woman could be anything but good. Arthur too thinks Hetty an affectionate creature. Surely deep grey eyes harbor a deep soul. Hetty, however, is like a plant with shallow roots. She is not fond of her uncle or cousins. She does not like children. Only another woman could have found out Hetty’s cold heart—her Aunt Poyser warns her husband that Hetty is a peacock. Mr. Poyser says she is just unripe grain.
Dinah, however, has misgivings. While lost in a prayer of divine love, she hears Hetty’s mirror hit the floor, and her imagination sees that Hetty is going to be in trouble and sorrow. She opens her Bible for guidance and then decides to talk to Hetty. Hetty is irritated at being interrupted at her vanities; she still has the earrings in her ears. Dinah tries to warn Hetty that she could have sorrow in her life and tells her she will always be her friend. Hetty is frightened by but rejects Dinah’s warning. Dinah goes to her room and prays for Hetty.
Commentary on Chapter 15
This is an important chapter giving a kaleidoscope of the assumptions of several characters. Hetty, Adam, and Arthur are lost in their own overlapping and conflicting illusions. The narrator builds tension and allows only the reader to see the full scope of the impending tragedy. Everyone cannot be right. Some of these bubbles are going to burst. It is interesting that the men are uniformly fooled by Hetty’s beauty into thinking it means she is a good and deep person. While Adam is thinking she will make a good mother, the narrator points out she does not like children. She does not even like the uncle who has been as a father to her and defends her to his wife.
Only the shrewd Mrs. Poyser sees Hetty’s true character and speaks of her hard heart. While Mrs. Poyser uses common sense and observation to come to this conclusion, Dinah sees the same thing from her mystic vision and sympathy. She prophesies Hetty’s tragedy and frightens the girl but does not get her attention. Hetty’s illusions are fully spelled out: she thinks Arthur means to marry her and make her a lady. She is not in love, but she believes a big change is coming to her life, and it has to do mostly with fine clothes and station. The omniscient narrator shows all the limited points of view clashing and building towards a crisis.