Alick is the shepherd and head man at the Hall Farm. He has a ruddy face and broad shoulders and does not get along with Kester Bale. He has a rough, rude manner.
Kester Bale is a handyman at the Hall Farm, proud of his work; for instance, thatching the ricks. He has bowed legs and is an old bachelor who hoards his money.
Adam is partially based on the early life of Eliot’s father. He is the protagonist, a strong, handsome young English peasant, nearly six feet tall, with black hair. Twenty-six and single, he is the mainstay of his family, as his father is a drunkard, and Adam is in reality the head of the family, morally and financially. His one flaw is his inability to forgive the weaknesses of others, since he himself is so strong. For instance, he is hard on his drunken father, and repents of this after his father’s death. He also has a hard time forgiving Arthur Donnithorne and nearly kills him by knocking him out for trifling with Hetty.
A moral and ethical person, Adam is simple, spiritual, and responsible. He is the man of action who tackles a problem head on. He is the favorite son of Lisbeth Bede, and she and Seth, the younger brother, depend on Adam and adore him. Adam is honest and ambitious in his own carpentry trade, going to night school to better himself. He is the brains and head workman in Mr. Burge’s carpentry shop but wants to start his own business with his brother. He is also desirous of managing part of the Donnithorne estate, as it is known it is poorly kept. Adam is the model workman whom even the squire and parson admire. He thinks of carpentry as a way to serve God and make the world better. He has the respect of everyone in his own station and above. Although he once insulted the old squire by refusing to take money for a piece of furniture that the squire thought overpriced, the squire relented and asked Adam to manage his woods for him. He is especially beloved by Arthur Donnithorne, the young squire, who plans to turn over the estate to Adam to manage when he is the owner. Adam and Arthur were close when young, despite their difference in stations. Above all, Arthur desires Adam’s respect, and is sorely shocked to lose it over Hetty.
Adam’s love for Hetty Sorrel is his one blind spot. A man of good judgment in all other things, he cannot imagine her feelings or lack thereof. He imagines a future for himself with her, and even courts her after he has learned of Arthur’s “flirtation” with her. He forces Arthur to write a letter to Hetty breaking off their relationship; then gets engaged to Hetty. When Hetty is in prison, Adam goes to stay by her side, forgiving her after she is condemned to death, but he puts the blame entirely on Arthur, and Mr. Irwine has to help him renounce his desire for revenge. The tragedy teaches Adam to be sympathetic to others. After he recovers from his sorrow, he marries Dinah Morris and has two children, takes over the Burge workshop and continues his job managing the woods on the Donnithorne estate. He and Arthur are finally reconciled.
Lisbeth is Adam’s old mother. Having lost her man to drink, she has relied on Adam more and more to take his place, and is whining and dependent. She will hardly let Adam out of sight and tries to control his life. She does not like young women and doesn’t want her sons to marry. She wails about everything hoping to get Adam’s attention. She ignores the worth of her younger son. Her one fear is that Adam will marry and then she will be displaced. She particularly does not want Hetty for a daughter-in-law. In the tragedy, however, she settles down and supports Adam. She is the one who gets Adam and Dinah together because she wants Dinah for a daughter-in-law, the only other woman she can stand in her house.
Seth is Adam’s younger brother, a Methodist, in love with Dinah Morris, the preacher. He is somewhat dreamy and impractical but good natured. He follows his brother as the leader. Though crushed when Dinah will not accept him for a husband, he continues to write to her and hope. When he finds out Adam and Dinah are in love, he is not jealous but happy that Dinah will be near him. He enjoys being an uncle to Adam’s and Dinah’s children.
Matthais or Thais is Adam’s father, whom his mother says was a good man until he took to drink. He drains the family resources and Adam has to redo all his carpentry jobs. Adam is angry with him until he drowns in a brook.
Mrs. Best is the Donnithorne housekeeper.
Luke is a farmer from Broxton who woos Hetty, but he slouches, and has nothing to say to her. Mr. Poyser does not like this suitor because he is a poor farmer and does not know how to improve his land. He is one of the irritants in Mr. Poyser’s life and one of the few people who can rouse him to anger.
Jonathan Burge is the owner of the carpentry shop where Seth and Adam work. Adam begins as foreman there, then becomes a partner, and eventually buys Burge out.
Mary is the daughter of Jonathan Burge and hopeful of being courted by Adam, who would take over her father’s shop. Hetty sees her as a sort of rival and tries to outshine her around Adam, though she isn’t interested in Adam. Mary thinks that Adam is smart enough to see through Hetty’s designs.
A former butler for Squire Donnithorne, Mr. Casson is the tavern keeper of Donnithorne Arms at Hayslope. He has a huge belly and small head and likes to gossip with the locals, putting on airs of knowing what the upper class folk are like.
Mr. Craig is the gardener at the Chase, who courts Hetty with strawberries and plants. She despises him because he is at least forty. He is a bit stiff and old fashioned in his ways and expresses his narrow opinions of Napoleon and the French at the Harvest Supper, which Adam refutes.
“Wiry Ben” is the joker in the group of workmen at Burge’s. Adam does not like his joking, but Seth is good-natured about it. He is the one who dances a hornpipe to Joshua Rann’s fiddle at Arthur’s coming of age party.
Bessie is the young buxom daughter of Chad, (Chad’s Bess), who likes finery as much as Hetty does. Dinah Morris singles her out to lecture on the danger of being flirtatious, and Bessie is so frightened she throws away her trinkets, then later retrieves them.
Chad Cranage is the blacksmith with the buxom daughter, Bessie.
Arthur Donnithorne is in a love triangle with Hetty and Adam. He is the heir to his grandfather, the old squire, and tutored by Mr. Irwine who looks on him as a son. He is loved on the estate by the tenants, and they think he will redress the wrong management of the old squire. He has plans to renovate the property with the help of the tenants and Adam Bede. He loves being popular and friendly with all the country people and visits everyone. On his twenty-first birthday, the main celebration is for the farmers and workers whom he wants to honor and please. He is especially desirous of the good opinion of Adam Bede who was a boyhood hero of his, and his tutor, Mr. Irwine. His godmother, Mrs. Irwine, believes he will turn out well, based on his good looks. Arthur, however, admits to being lazy, and though he means well, he does not think about the results of his actions. He is a little too easy going, for instance, in thinking he can court Hetty without any complications. He makes resolutions about leaving Hetty alone, but is too weak to carry them out. Not knowing Hetty is Adam’s intended, he has an affair with her and then lies to Adam about it. He is shocked at being knocked out by Adam, who does not like Arthur’s cocky attitude. Arthur is away in the army in Ireland when Hetty is pregnant, so he cannot help her. He believes all is well when she is engaged to Adam and only finds out about the tragedy when he returns at his grandfather’s death. He arrives at her hanging with a partial pardon just as she is about to die. He was only able to change the sentence to transportation. Arthur does what he can to make amends by leaving the Hayslope area so the Poysers and Adam won’t have to. When he returns very ill after the Napoleonic war, Hetty is dead.
Lydia is the maiden daughter of the old squire and Arthur’s aunt. She is as out of touch with the tenants as the old squire, for she buys flannel and coarse clothes for a prize for the women during Arthur’s birthday party.
The squire is cranky and still bullying at 83 years of age, shriveled but stubborn and hated by the tenants. He does not take proper care of the estate. The tenants’ houses are in disrepair. He once argued with Adam Bede over the price of a screen he made for his daughter Lydia, causing Adam to proudly refuse payment. He realizes, however, that Adam is the right man to manage the woods and gives him the appointment. He is cheap and hires incompetent people like his steward, Satchell, who cheats the tenants. He also tries to pull a dirty deal on the Poysers by making them give away their best land. Mrs. Poyser tells him off, feeling it would be worth it to be evicted if she can say how she feels.
Arthur names his cousin Tradgett heir to his estate if he should die and promises Adam that he is a good man.
Gyp is Adam’s faithful grey shepherd-dog, who follows him around.
Mr. Adolphus Irwine is the rector of Broxton Parsonage but also has the livings of Hayslope and Blythe, even though with all three, he barely has enough income to support himself, his mother, and two unmarried sisters. He is prevented from marrying because of all his obligations. He has been tutor to Arthur Donnithorne, and his mother is Arthur’s godmother. Mr. Irwine is loved in his parish for his kindness and tolerance. He is in harmony with the values of the farmers and workers, and well liked by the gentry as well. He practices his religion in that he cares for the feelings of others, his invalid sister for instance. He is especially proud of Adam Bede and his pupil, Arthur. When he examines Dinah, the Methodist minister, he is impressed with her and respects her work. In the tragedy with Hetty, he rises to be everyone’s friend, restoring harmony to Hayslope and helping the Poysers keep their home. He takes over the management of the Donnithorne estate when the squire dies and Arthur leaves.
The rector’s mother has a royal bearing and plays the part of the queen mother in the rectory. She is strong, while her daughters are weak. In a sense, she partners her son and likes strong men, like her godson, Arthur. She is very proud and likes being given a throne to judge the games on Arthur’s birthday. Though she thinks Arthur is going to be a success in life based on his good looks, she also predicts his life will be ruled by the woman he chooses, which turns out to be true.
Anne is an invalid who suffers from migraine headaches. Her brother, Adolphus, spends time with her, is patient, and does not see his sisters as a burden to him. Anne is sometimes attended by her sister, Kate.
Kate is middle-aged and of no account to most of the people in the area, though she is important to her brother. She appears at Arthur’s fete and dances with Luke Britton.
Bartle Massey is the old school teacher who lives in a house on Hayslope Commons. He has one leg shorter than the other and has a sharp tongue, speaking his mind, like Mrs. Poyser. He does not like women and speaks against marriage to Adam. He is like a father to him, advising and educating him. He runs a night-school for the working men in the town. He stays with Adam in a rented room during the trial at Stoniton to keep an eye on Adam, who is depressed and wanting revenge on Arthur. During the Harvest Supper, Bartle has an epic exchange of wit with Mrs. Poyser over the merits and faults of men and women.
Mills is the butler at the Chase, the Donnithorne estate.
Molly is one of the maids at Hall Farm, complained about by Mrs. Poyser for her clumsiness.
Dinah is the niece of Mrs. Poyser and stays with her at the Hall Farm for visits when she is away from her home in Snowfield. At Hall Farm she helps her aunt with sewing and taking care of the children, who all love her. Dinah works in a mill at Snowfield, supporting herself, and ministering to the poor mill workers. She is a Methodist preacher, and though beautiful with auburn hair, she wears a black Quakerish dress and cap and has a very ascetic lifestyle. Living for others, she has no care for herself. She is something of a mystic, enjoying her inner communion with God and getting direct guidance from her visions and by randomly opening the Bible. She refuses to marry Seth Bede, saying she will never marry, for her vocation is to spread comfort through God’s work. When she preaches, she is treated with respect by the men because she has a dignified manner, and her speech is powerful. Even Mr. Irwine is impressed by her and treats her as a lady. Bringing wisdom and comfort everywhere she goes, she is much in demand. She attempts to warn Hetty about her danger, and tells her to remember to come to her in any trouble. She is held in awe by the people of Stoniton when she goes into the prison and stays alone with Hetty there, through the trial, even going in the cart with her to the gallows. She alone gets Hetty to confess her crime and ask for forgiveness. Thought of as an angel by everyone, her challenge is to accept herself as a woman when she falls in love with Adam. At first believing it is against her calling to marry, she finally realizes she can serve God as a wife and mother and marries Adam. Eventually she has to give up preaching when the Methodists rule that women may not preach. Dinah is based on Eliot’s own Methodist preaching aunt, and becomes the model in the story for sympathy and love.
Nancy is one of Mrs. Poyser’s maids at the Hall Farm.
John Olding is the rough peasant who found the body of Hetty’s baby and took it to the constable. Olding testified at the trial that he and the constable found Hetty sitting at the scene of the crime. He had seen her putting something there and heard the baby cry.
Mrs. Pomfret is Miss Lydia’s lady’s maid at the Donnithornes, who teaches Hetty lace-mending and gives her the idea to be a lady’s maid.
Mrs. Rachel Poyser
The farmer’s wife at Hall Farm, Mrs. Poyser is one of the more memorable and colorful characters in her outspoken and comic expressions. She is confident and efficient in her management practices, advising her husband about the farm they run together. She is critical of the squire for not keeping up the property, and at one point, tells him off and becomes a legendary heroine in the area for doing so. An immaculate housekeeper, she has the best dairy in the valley. She runs a tight ship and does not like the dreamy nature of Hetty. At thirty-eight she is still handsome, though in some weakness from the birth of her last child, Totty. There are two older sons, Marty and Tommy, but the youngest daughter is a handful. Mrs. Poyser is seen always knitting as she walks around so she won’t waste time. She favors Adam Bede as Hetty’s suitor. When Hetty’s crime is found out, she is less hard on Hetty than her husband. Adam says though she has a sharp tongue, she is better than her word in time of trouble.
Mr. Martin Poyser
A quiet and thoughtful man, he does not speak fast enough for his wife, so she often speaks up in his stead. He appreciates his wife’s skills and business sense. He is a kind man, taking in his niece Hetty, who was an orphan. He also cares for his old father who lives on the farm. He encourages Adam Bede, his friend, to come to the farm, hoping he will marry Hetty. When Hetty commits a crime, he is outraged and vows never to see her again, but he is called to testify at her trial. He wants to leave the country because of the family’s disgrace, but Arthur Donnithorne leaves instead so he won’t have to uproot his family. He is overjoyed when Adam marries Dinah.
Old Martin Poyser
Old Poyser is Martin’s father, who lives on the farm with Martin and his wife. He is an amiable old man, always deferring to the younger generation. When Hetty brings disgrace on the family, he is hard on her, for the family has been respectable for generations.
The three year old daughter of the Poysers is naughty and irrepressible. In every scene, she has just stained her clothes or broken something. Hetty is assigned to watch her, but she doesn’t like Totty, and Totty doesn’t like her. Her mother coddles her because she is the youngest.
Pym is Arthur Donnithorne’s manservant.
Joshua is the village shoemaker. He is also the parish clerk for Hayslope and is the one who tells Mr. Irwine about the Methodist meeting on the Green. He hopes Irwine will interfere to prevent them from influencing the town. He plays his fiddle at Arthur Donnithorne’s birthday party.
Mr. Ryde is the pastor who replaces Mr. Irwine at Hayslope in the future. He is contrasted to Mr. Irwine in terms of his religion. Mr. Irwine was not meticulous in teaching the fine points of doctrine, but he loved his parishioners and showed them by example how to be loving and tolerant. This according to Adam is true religion. Mr. Ryde seemed to be better in paying attention to doctrine, but his was mostly intellectual religion with no feeling.
Known as Sandy Jim, Jim Salt is the burly red-haired workman in Burge’s workshop married to “Timothy’s Bess.” They have two small children.
Satchell is the squire’s steward for the estate. He is disliked for his mismanagement. When he falls sick, Adam is offered the job of managing the woods by Squire Donnithorne.
Hetty is the pretty seventeen-year-old niece of Martin Poyser, orphaned and taken in by him when she was only ten. She has had no education except for learning farm chores. Her one great skill is making butter, but she tries to better herself by learning lace making from Mrs. Pomfret. She wants to be a lady’s maid, so she can be with rich people. Hetty is vain and looks at herself in the mirror a lot. She spends her pocket money on finery. When Arthur Donnithorne pays attention to her, she believes he will marry her and she will become a lady. She is ignorant, innocent, and unaware that her dreams are illusions. She has no knowledge of the world. She is portrayed as a fairly superficial person with no ability to reflect on her experience. She drifts along, not seeing what consequences are in store for her actions. She likes Arthur because he gives her earrings and a locket, but when he says he has to leave her, she switches her attention to Adam. The narrator paints her as hard-hearted and self-centered with no very great love for others. And yet, she has the ability to charm, like a kitten. In this way, she takes in Adam, who wants to protect her. Dinah also wants to protect her and sees her danger, offering to be her friend. Mrs. Poyser doesn’t have much patience with her and scolds her for her daydreaming, but she puts up with her for her husband’s sake. Martin tries to look out for her as a daughter and discourages her from being a lady’s maid. She does not seek help when she is in trouble because she is proud and doesn’t want to be shamed. The narrator shows her abandoning her baby, not killing it directly. She is apparently in shock after wandering around homeless for a few weeks and only thinks how she can go home without disgrace. When arrested for murder, she denies everything and thus gets no sympathy and the stiffest penalty of death by hanging. Dinah skillfully gets her to confess and tries to comfort her, telling her she will only be forgiven by God if she confesses and asks forgiveness. She is saved from hanging by Arthur Donnithorne, who gets the sentence changed to transportation. She dies before she can reach England after her sentence is served.
Sarah Stone is the widowed shopkeeper in Stoniton who took in Hetty Sorrel the night she gave birth to her baby. Mrs. Stone dressed the baby in clothes she had made and took care of mother and baby until Hetty ran away. She testified at the trial. The baby clothes were found on the dead baby.
Feyther Taft is the oldest man in Hayslope and was offered a seat of honor at Arthur’s birthday party.
Mum Taft is the silent workman at Burge’s who does not join in the banter with the other men.
Ben Tholoway is a powerful thresher who works at the Hall Farm but likes to steal a few items for himself. Mr. Poyser looks the other way because he is a good worker.
Tim is the waggoner at the Hall Farm who loves horses but does not get along with Alick the shepherd.
Colonel Townley is the older man, a magistrate, who helps Dinah Morris get into the prison to be with Hetty. He was the man on horseback in the beginning of the story who was struck by the handsomeness of Adam Bede and who stayed to hear Dinah Morris preach on the Green.