The Art of Perception: An Analysis of How a Desired Public Image Affects One's Actions
Mentor:Constance Fulmer, Associate Dean Director, Center for Teaching and Learning; Professor of English, Pepperdine University
Written in 1859, Adam Bede was George Eliot’s first novel and marked the beginning of her fascination with class distinction and social perception. The main characters of her novel, Adam Bede and Hetty Sorrel, find themselves engaged in efforts in maintain their respective images, fulfill societal expectations, and transcend class distinctions. Initially, Adam is painted by Eliot as a devoted, hardworking, hypercritical man while Hetty is depicted as childlike and innocent. As each character struggles to maintain her/his public image and find their place in the class system, they encounter challenges that call for reevaluation of the importance of image. George Eliot suggests that resisting conformity and shying away from societal expectations is a trait to be desired as Adam is saved by relinquishing his concern with public image and Hetty’s obsession with it is her condemnation. Throughout Adam Bede, Eliot beautifully shapes characters who struggle with the art of perception in order to provide a cautionary tale for Victorian society on the hazards of centering one’s life around conforming to societal expectations and attempting to maintain an image.