Multiple Themes in Eliot's Adam Bede

Internal versus External Beauty: George Eliot makes a contrastive study of Hetty Sorrel and Dinah Morris so as to depict the theme of the inner and outer beauty. Hetty represents the outer beauty, she is physically attractive and has a grace in her every activity. Even she cries and whenever she gets angry Adam Bede and Captain Donnithorne find love and some kind of infatuation.

Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot)

But she is in heart cold and hard. She is emotionless when she leaves her newborn baby to die in the jungle. She only cares for her own happiness. Her outer appearance hides her cruel and selfish look. She does not have any respect to the religion and its value. She is so stiff and arrogant that she does not admit her crime easily. On the other hand, Dinah Morris stands for the depiction of the inner beauty. Adam does not find Dinah as beautiful as Hetty. She is plain and is not so attentive towards her outer beauty. Her main concern is to serve people around her and follow the ways of God. She provides comfort to Lisbeth when her husband dies. She is the person who is able to convince Hetty to confess her guilt. She is there with Hetty when none is with her in her hard time. Dinah exceptionally beautiful inwardly. Her inner grace and virtuous beauty attract Adam. He also starts to see the beauty and elegance in Dinah. 

Work is Worship

One of the most obvious theme is hard work. There are many characters who are the epitome of hard work and for them work is everything. Adam Bede is shown as a gentle and laborious carpenter for which he is renowned. For Adam, work is religion and it is worship to god if you do your work sincerely. His carpentry work is unmatched. Another good example is Mrs. Poysers who is engaged in dairy supplies. Her productions like cheese and cream are well known and liked by all in the village. There are other minor characters who are involved in farming and keep themselves busy. Those who are busy never harbor thought to harm others. It is Arthur Donnithorne who is as lazy as a donkey and always complains that he does not have anything to do. His idleness may be one reason for his evil behavior to Hetty and it has contributed a lot in her fall. Had he been busy, he would not have much time to flirt with Hetty and she might not have met that ugly situation. In this way, Eliot wants to make the reader clear that any kind of work is respect worthy and it keeps your mind busy and saves you from the unnecessary burden.

Formative force: Love

G. Eliot's another focus of the novel Adam Bede is the formative force that is love. Love is shown as a constructive force in the novel through some characters. Dinah is a symbol of love in the novel. She loves all the people around her village and whenever they are in need she is there to console them. Lisbeth is consoled and loved by Dinah. When Hetty is shunned by all for her crime, it is Dinah, who loves her without being judgmental. She consoles her and listens to her pain and agony and makes her feel free and relaxed at the end of the novel. She confesses her sin and is free from the burden. Hetty even asks for forgiveness to Adam for her betrays.  Dinah's love has changed Hetty. Dinah's love and care has also changed Adam's view point to perceive the beauty. He used to see only the outer beauty of Hetty and is blindly in love with her, but when he notices Dinah with Hetty in the cell and her love for Hetty, he is totally changed. He finds the inner beauty of Dinah more loving and eternal than the outer beauty of Hetty. His perception to analyze and see the beauty has been changed because of Dinah’s loving behaviors. In the same manner, Mrs. Poysers is shown as a harsh and rude lady, but in case of Hetty, she is the only family member who loves her without questioning her guilt. She is transformed from a critical woman to loving and accepting woman. Eliot proves that love has a power to change in a positive sense.


Eliot has made a constant use of nature in her novels. She is not influenced by the romantic novelists whose characters' moods are described in terms of the nature and its moods. Opposite to it, she presents the nature in her most beautiful way when her characters are suffering through the hard times of his or her life. The disconnection of the nature from the human life and suffering is part of Eliot's literary doctrine of painstaking realism. Instead of the nature and the climate replicate her characters' mood and emotions, she makes her characters notice their memories and experiences in the context of the actual environment. Adam grades his movement from happiness to adulthood by the beech tree that he contemplated moments before noticing Hetty and Arthur kiss under it. Hetty marks her homeward journey not to return to the family farm, but to regain some scenery that is familiar to her. Dinah and Adam always refer to his interception of her in Snowfield and their agreement to marry as "the meeting on the hill."


Adam Bede is necessarily about the theme of motherhood. Lisbeth is the strong figure of the mother in the novel. She loves Adam too much that is why she is too worried about his whereabouts. She takes much concern what he is doing, what he has eaten and whenever he is in front of her, she starts nagging her. Because of her love, she nags on Adam and Adam feels irritated about it. Neither Hetty nor Dinah has a mother in the novel. Both of them are orphaned and they live with their uncle or aunt, respectively. The lack of a mother figure in their lives affects each of them profoundly in their upbringing.  Dinah is mature enough to control her and she quickly grows into a mother figure herself, looking after others. Hetty, in contrast, lacking strong guidance and because of the immaturity, she grows up vain and petty. When she has a child of her own illicitly, she kills it by burying it. She does have some motherly feelings, however, noting that she could not bear to look at its "little hands or little face" before she buries it. She imagines that she continues to hear it crying. This is why she returns to the spot where she buried it, and this is why she is detained as a criminal.