Animals and Angels
Hetty Sorrel is described with natural metaphors, sometimes flower imagery, but most often animal imagery. For instance, she has a “beauty like that of kittens” (Chpt. 7, p. 84); she is a “kitten-like maiden” (Chpt. 7, p. 85); “a star-browed calf” (Chpt. 7, p. 85); she is compared to a “tempting dog” (Chpt. 9, p. 103); she has a “butterfly soul” (Chpt. 13, p. 134); she is “a bright-eyed spaniel” (Chpt. 13, p. 136); and she parades in front of her mirror like a pigeon (Chpt. 15, p. 151). Her last name “Sorrel” means a flaming red plant or a reddish-brown horse. She has a wild and untamed nature as a girl, and later, when she is in prison for killing her newborn baby, she becomes hard-hearted, without conscience. Mr. Irwine finds that “she shrank up like a frightened animal when she saw me” (Chpt. 40, p. 419).
Hetty is cute to look at, inviting, playful, naughty, like a kitten. But like a kitten, she does what she wants. Arthur sees her as a little dog when she pouts and cries for his attention. He gives in as to a pet. In fact, “Hetty had the luxurious nature of a round, soft-coated pet animal” (Chpt. 37, p. 381). This pet-like nature is dangerous in a woman’s body. The narrator calls her a “young, childish ignorant soul” (Chpt. 35, p. 365) with a trust in chance. Hetty has not the spiritual means of self-control or seeing farther down the road than the present moment. She is selfish in the way an animal is, only concerned with her own comforts. She thus represents a very undeveloped human state.
Constantly contrasted to Dinah Morris, whose only reason for acting is to serve God by serving other people, Hetty cannot even conceive of the needs of someone else. Her baby is referred to as “it” without a gender. Dinah, on the other hand, is compared to a saint or an angel. She is called “St. Catherine in a quaker dress” (Chpt. 5, p. 64) with a face like a “lily” (Chpt. 11, p. 122). Adam thinks she must be an “angel in the desert” to the people of Snowfield (Chpt. 38, p. 394). Lisbeth Bede also thinks her an angel, and when she wants to get Adam to think of Dinah as a wife, she uses the picture of the angel by Christ’s empty tomb in the Bible to get his attention. Dinah is thus associated with resurrection and a higher nature. She consistently helps those who are being crucified by life—Lisbeth, Adam, the Poysers, and Hetty. Dinah lifts and elevates, giving hope, like the angel at the tomb of death.
These metaphors help Eliot to explain both extremes of human nature—the selfish animal-like person, creating suffering wherever they go, and the angelic, unselfish person who wants to create peace and love.
Evil as a Disease
When Mr. Irwine is counseling Adam before Hetty’s trial, he tries to explain the nature of evil. Adam has tried consistently to see only Arthur as guilty of the crime. He excuses Hetty as innocent, even though she committed murder. Adam wants to be revenged on Arthur, feeling that Arthur is escaping his rightful punishment. Irwine explains that he can’t isolate Arthur as the only culprit: “Men’s lives are as thoroughly blended with each other as the air they breathe; evil spreads as necessarily as disease” (Chpt. 41, p. 425).
This idea is illustrated by the repercussions of the affair between Hetty and Arthur. Arthur thinks he is after a bit of idle pleasure with Hetty that he can later renounce, but he ruins the woman Adam hopes to have as a wife. Arthur is also implicated in all the evil that Hetty does afterward, for “The evil consequences that may lie folded in a single act of selfish indulgence” spreads out beyond the doer (Chpt, 41, p. 424). Arthur’s own future plans as the just landlord are destroyed; Hetty’s life is shattered; the Poysers almost leave their land as outcasts; Irwine loses his beloved Arthur to the army and a life of exile. But worst of all is that Adam himself almost commits murder. In his angry vengeance, he hits Arthur and knocks him unconscious. At first he fears he has killed him, and in that moment he knows that he has done wrong, for violence will not mend things. Mr. Irwine has to remind Arthur several times that his thirst for vengeance is part of the evil he condemns.
This metaphor also contains hope, for a disease may be cured. Though the consequences of all this wrong-doing cannot be erased and will leave scars, the communal body may be made well by unselfish acts. Adam is healed of his hatred for Arthur and shakes his hand and wishes him well, thus helping himself to recover: “sorrow was more bearable now hatred was gone” (Chpt. 48, p. 472).
The Seasons of Life
The pastoral scenes of country farm life frame Hetty’s tragedy with the changing seasons. The first book takes place in the spring at Hayslope. Arthur first sees Hetty’s fresh figure in the dairy: “Hetty’s was a springtide beauty” (Chpt. 7, p. 85). Arthur begins courting Hetty in the spring, and as the plants ripen, so does their passion. They meet in the wood and are attracted as naturally as “two velvet peaches” touching or “two brooklets” mingling (Chpt. 12, p. 131). The second book is set primarily in the early summer before Arthur’s birthday celebration, with the joyous outdoor work of hay-making. Hetty is now “a bright-cheeked apple hanging over the wall” (Chpt. 19, p. 209), tempting to both Adam and Arthur. Hetty gathers red currants in the garden as Adam, for the first time, thinks Hetty returns his love. She is actually thinking of Arthur who has begun giving her presents.
Arthur’s birthday is July 30 when nature makes “a hot pause” with “all the loveliest flowers” gone and “the sweet time of early growth and vague hopes is past, and yet the time of harvest and ingathering has not come, and we tremble” at storms that may blow in and ruin the fruit (Chpt. 22, p. 249). Hetty wears the locket with their combined locks of hair to Arthur’s party. This symbolizes their physical union, which happens in the summer. The narrator remarks that it is painful to think of Hetty “with a woman’s destiny before her” (Chpt. 22, p. 251).
Adam discovers their relationship in August but mistakes how far it has gone. He helps to break it off since Arthur is going away anyway, and he hopes to regain Hetty’s affection. At this time the harvest is retarded by heavy rains. Apples are falling in the orchard. Adam knocks down Arthur, almost killing him. When Hetty reads Arthur’s good by letter, she has a “bruised passion” like a rotten apple (Chpt. 31, p. 336). Adam courts Hetty and becomes engaged to her in November, after she has already been used up by Arthur.
Over the winter Hetty discovers she is pregnant and runs away in February. In this time of cold misery and death in nature, Hetty wanders alone in the empty fields, her baby is born and dies, and she is put in prison. She is sentenced to be hanged on the very day she should have married Adam in March, the beginning of spring—a false spring for Adam.
The winding up takes place in the autumn, 18 months later, where an autumn feast celebrating the fruits of the land takes place at Hall Farm. It is a thanksgiving and a reaping of both the sorrow and joy of the community. The idea that wisdom comes from harvesting our own lives in due season is represented in the metaphor of Mr. Irwine as “a full crop o’ wheat” (Chpt. 8, p. 95). He gives the satisfying feeling of a fully rounded life, says Mrs. Poyser, while Hetty is hard-hearted, “like th’ unripe grain” (Chpt. 15, p. 155). Her life is wasted before it begins. It has run its course in a single tragic year.
Animals and Angels