Throughout Adam Bede the characters of Dinah Morris and Hetty Sorrell are compared and contrasted, albeit sometimes indirectly, both can, at times, represent the Madonna and the harlot. It is not always clear which woman is the harlot and which is the Madonna. Many critics have commented on the exchange in roles and the position of such a woman in pre-Victorian society. Dinah is a pillar of the society, a good hardworking girl who is a credit to the Poyser family, pretty but not beautiful by Hetty's standards. Dinah is unusual in that her vocation goods beyond dairy work, she is a Methodist preacher, this is the only thing frowned upon by some members of the society. On the other hand, Hetty is aesthetically beautiful, but is simple and vain; she views work as something that ruins her hands. The opinion of much of the village is that she is a burden to her aunt and uncle, with dreams above her station.
The story of Adam Bede is a story of polarity and opposition; Eliot critic Dorothea Barrett made this statement:
Rather than a simple opposition of Dinah the Madonna versus Hetty the harlot, we have in `Adam Bede' an opposition of oppositions, a dialectic in which each term is itself a dialectic, Dinah and Hetty are opposites.
This is to say that the polarity can swing back and forth, Hetty is not always a harlot, yet can be considered something of a martyr of this judging pre-Victorian society. Barrett went on to accuse Dinah of acting with `malicious intent' in that she almost forces a confession out of the already exhausted Hetty:
Let us pray, poor sinner: let us fall on our knees again, and pray to the God of all mercy.
It seems that Hetty cannot repent enough for Dinah; it is as though she needs to know how much of a dreadful person Hetty is, in order to take her place at the centre of the novel. It could be said this is a harsh opinion of a good, God fearing young woman; none of Hetty's wrong doing has been brought about by Dinah, yet she has been labelled by some critics as some form of usurper.
It would not be correct to label Dinah a harlot at any point during the novel, she goes out of her way to be invisible to men, she must be taken as she is found; in plain but impeccably clean dresses. Many critics have thought that Dinah has a too good to be true air about her, that she is not human enough:
She is shown always in the very actions of goodness, but conscious goodness is the most difficult, but conscious goodness is the most difficult quality a novelist can portray, no doubt because though it undoubtedly exists, we all know, and all the saints have been agonisingly aware, that it cannot exist unalloyed. Dinah is too much a model of religious and moral excellence to be convincing as a human being.
Dinah may be unconvincingly good, but this is perhaps her purpose. The novel was written in 1859, but is set at least seventy years before this time; the character of Dinah reflects desirable qualities in a...