Summary of Chapter 20: Adam Visits the Hall Farm
Lisbeth complains when her son puts on his best clothes to visit the Poysers. He asks his mother to be more resigned to his doing what he thinks best for himself. Lisbeth worries to herself that one day Hetty will be the mistress over her.
Adam goes to the Hall Farm and meets Mrs. Poyser who says Hetty is out gathering red currants with Totty. She asks Adam to send in Totty but first gives him a drink of fresh whey. Adam says he prefers whey to beer. Adam goes into the garden and sends Totty in and stays to talk to Hetty. He surprises her, and when she blushes, Adam takes encouragement, not realizing that she was thinking of Arthur. He begins to speak of his own prospects so Hetty will see he has a future, mentioning that Arthur will one day be running the estate and how he has offered to lend him money to start a business. She asks Adam if he has been to Eagledale where Arthur is fishing, and Adam describes it to her and speculates Arthur will be back soon. When Adam gives Hetty a rose, she puts it in her hair, and he mentions he doesn’t like women to have ornaments. He likes Dinah’s plainness best.
They go in and Mrs. Poyser sends the maid to fetch beer for the men. Molly drops and breaks the mugs. Angry, Mrs. Poyser goes to fetch the beer herself with her good crockery. Meanwhile, Hetty dresses in black and puts on one of Dinah’s caps to pretend to be Quakerish like Dinah in order to punish Adam for his rebuke to her. As she comes into the room, she scares Mrs. Poyser who drops the ale again. Mrs. Poyser considers this a bad omen. She was frightened because Hetty looked like a ghost. Adam tells the Poysers about his idea for starting a business with his brother, and after he leaves they tell Hetty that Adam would make a good husband.
Commentary on Chapter 20
The scene in the garden between Adam and Hetty shows the miscommunication between them. Each is wrapped in a different fantasy, not aware of what the other means. Adam assumes all Hetty’s blushes and looks are for him, when in reality, she is thinking of Arthur. When he brings up Arthur in terms of his own future, Hetty diverts the talk to details of Eagledale and when Arthur will be back.
The garden scene is reminiscent of Milton’s Paradise Lost when Adam admonishes Eve for her rebellious nature just before she is tempted by Satan. Milton’s Eve liked to look at herself the way Hetty does and had voluptuous looks. Like the original Adam, Adam Bede is overly fond of the woman he loves, and this moment of blossoming hope in the garden is a moment he will remember all his life.
It is clear to the reader how mismatched the pair is when Hetty puts the rose in her hair and Adam says it reminds him of painted women. He prefers Dinah’s plain beauty. He tries to take back his insult to her after she plays the joke of dressing like Dinah, saying there are different kinds of beauty. Adam, however, did not notice Dinah in the beginning because she looked pale next to Hetty. His dislike now of the coquettishness of Hetty’s putting the rose in her hair is a foreshadowing of his disillusionment, as is Hetty’s appearance in the twilight as a ghost to her aunt.