Summary of Chapter 37: The Journey in Despair
Hetty is in bed the rest of the day, too ill to think. She has no hope left. The next day she tries to think of a plan. She cannot get any work in her condition. Remembering a starving unwed mother and child at Hayslope who had been sent to the parish workhouse, a fate to be feared, she longs to be back home safe. No one will welcome a runaway in her condition. Above all, she does not want her family to find out what has happened to her. She decides to sell the presents Arthur gave her, and if she is not strong enough to commit suicide, she will find Dinah.
Hetty gets money from the landlord for her earrings and locket and sets out back north again. She goes on and on, without a clear plan, until she gets to Stratford-on-Avon. She walks into the surrounding fields looking for a pool to drown herself. She finds a pool, but not able to throw herself in, she falls asleep there. In the cold and dark she awakens in fear. Remembering a shepherd’s hovel nearby, she gropes until she finds it, and sleeps there on a bed of straw. In the morning, a gruff shepherd tells her to get back to the road because she looks like a “wild woman” (p. 390). She continues her journey north towards Dinah in Snowfield.
Commentary on Chapter 37
Hetty finds she cannot commit suicide because she has, the narrator tells us, “the luxurious nature of a round, soft-coated pet animal” (p. 381). She is torn between thoughts of suicide, begging, the workhouse, and throwing herself on the mercy of her aunt and uncle. She wants to go on living as long as possible, but she has no hope that she can be delivered from the evil she is in. She does not think she can even tell Dinah. When she thinks of death, she does not know about an afterlife, for she is not a religious person. She begins to have a hard look, like a wild animal, like the wild woman the shepherd sees in her. The narrator says she has a “Medusa face” (p. 386). Medusa was a monster with the face of a woman and hair of snakes whose look could turn someone to stone. This is a strange image for Hetty whom we have been led to believe was more like a soft and helpless animal, a little dog that drew the affection of others. Eliot prepares us here for the major transformation Hetty is undergoing. Without any help or spiritual life to sustain her, she is coming close to the madness that destroys the moral sense in a person, never a strong point with Hetty anyway. We will not be surprised at what she might do in her desperation. At this point she seems scarcely aware of the child she is carrying except as baggage and shame. When Hetty wakes up in the shepherd’s hut, she is so glad to be alive that she passionately kisses her own arms. After repeating that Hetty has no sorrow except for herself, the narrator confesses to be sorry for her: “My heart bleeds for her as I see her toiling along on her weary feet” (p. 391). Though the narrator says some harsh things of Hetty, she wants the reader to pity her fate by understanding step by step, how she arrived there.