Silas Marner

Introduction to Silas Marner

Written by Mary Ann Evans, the popular George Eliot, Silas Marner first appeared in England back in 1861 and reached the United States quite later. Despite its initial popularity, the novel lost its worth to her later popular novels, Middlemarch and The Mill on the Floss. However, later the story proved its worth when it became popular. The novel tells the story of a simpleton, a weaver, who after being robbed, leaves the area but later proved highly supportive to the sibling of the people responsible for his expulsion. The story highlights the onslaught of industrialization on the simple rural folk.

Summary of Silas Marner

Set at the beginning of the 19th century’s rural England, Silas Marner, a simple weaver, is living in Lantern Yard where has joined the Calvinist congregation. Earning his livelihood by weaving linen of the locals has become his source of bread and butter. However, someone, having ill will against him, accuses him of stealing funds from the congregation that he denies. Yet, the people, finding faults in him, accuses him of two reasons that he has a pocket knife with him that he has used for stealing the funds and that the bag containing the money has been recovered from his house. However, there is a suspicion that William Dane, his best friend, has done this to frame him in the theft case. The reason for the suspicion is his action of lending Silas his pen knife before the theft takes place. Instead of pinpointing the act of stealing and investigating the issue, it is put to God to establish the truth of the crime despite indications that Silas is not the culprit. He is so much berated in the area that his fiancée refuses to marry him, while the social relations turn their back toward him. He is isolated in the area after which he feels distraught and leaves it for good to some other areas where he is entirely an unknown person.

After traveling to Midlands, Silas reaches Raveloe, a village in Warwickshire, he passes a word about his profession and settles down, keeping a very low profile with no contacts with the locals except his work. Soon he is immersed in his work and earnings. Over time, he collects enough gold coins that Dunstan Cass, a son of the local squire, steals his bags and flees. Silas takes this theft to his heart and finds himself cornered. However, nobody in the village suspects Dunstan, for he has always stayed disappeared for days. On the other hand, his brother, Godfrey Cass, suspects something, though, he has his own secret – his marriage to Molly Farren, an opium addict. Although it has not caused any harm to him, it has stopped him from marrying Nancy Lammeter, another middle-class lady, he loves the most. When Molly tries to reach his father’s New Year party to announce her being his wife, she loses her balance in the snow, leaving her two-year-old daughter to wander through the snow and reach Silas’s hut, who extends refuge and finding the mother dead, takes upon himself to bring up the child.

Silas soon finds it his purpose in life to bring up the girl to whom he names Eppie. He adores the golden-haired princess so much so that he considers her a replacement for his gold coins. Godfrey, on the other hand, continues hiding his marriage to Molly and his being the father of Eppie. Then he marries Nancy but continues assisting Silas to bring up Eppie easily. Dolly Winthrop, his neighbor, also helps him a lot in bringing up the girl successfully. Soon he becomes a sociable man in the area with a young daughter, Eppie, being the pride of the village. While both of them are enjoying life as the father and the daughter, Godfrey and Nancy find themselves in hot waters due to having no child after the death of the first baby. Meanwhile, Dunstan’s skeleton is also found with Silas’s money in his bags. Although the money goes to Silas, Godfrey feels the heat of his past criminal negligence toward his wife, Molly, he confesses before Nancy about his wife and child. When they disclose the secret and try to take the girl, Eppie flatly refuses them saying that she is happy with Silas. Now as prosperous and upright, Silas visits his previous village but sees only ruins. There is nothing except a factory without people knowing the fate of the village. Eppie, meanwhile, marries Dolly’s son, Aaron, and lives with Silas, while all the family members occasionally meet and enjoy life.

Major Themes in Silas Marner

  1. Faith: Loss of faith is the central theme of the novel, Silas Marner. During his life in Lantern Yard, Silas not only loses faith in human beings but also the religious clergy and ultimately God due to finding no assistance from any source during his ordeal of being accused as a thief. It happens because he trusts in God and men more than even herbs, the knowledge of which he learns from his mother during his childhood. Therefore, his preference for prayers over medicines backfires when he sees his dear friend, William Dane, leveling accusations against him for stealing. However, when he turns to God, the church also betrays him, leaving him without any option but to lose faith and leave the place. When he leaves human beings and avoids relations in Raveloe, he finds Eppie, after her mother dies in the snow. Finally, he returns to social life through his love for his adopted daughter, Eppie, and not faith in God, church, or human beings.
  2. Morality: Prevalent morality or moral framework that governs a social settlement is another prominent theme of the story. The determination of fate in Lantern Yard is done through the people themselves. When Silas Marner is accused, none comes to help the poor weaver, while his close friend is involved in leveling charges. However, when he leaves it for Raveloe, he comes to know that his simple act of bringing up and taking care of Eppie has won him a good place in the social setup where people believe that he would be blessed for this kindness. Eppie’s preference to Marner over her father, Godfrey Cross, shows the moral framework prevalent that what is hidden from the public eye may not tarnish the image of a person such as the death of Molly hides Godfrey’s action.
  3. Individual: The novel presents an individual in two different social settings; first in the rural setting of Lantern Yard where he is working as a weaver and then in Raveloe where he is doing the same work but staying aloof from the main social stream. In both, Silas comes to know that where he has been turned a pariah in the first where even God has turned against him in the shape of church’s hostility, in the second, he learns that the entire social setting is backing him up in his act of kindness of keeping Eppie with him as his own daughter. The social conventions governing a society turn upside down in one place contrary to the first place where Silas experiences his full potential and realizes his significance.
  4. Fear: The theme of fear is of paramount importance in the novel in that Silas is expelled or is forced to leave Lantern Yard on account of the fear of God after the people think that God has given His decision against him. However, in another place, it turns out that the people fear the same unknown God that He has blessed Silas with a daughter. However, it is also a fact that this fear of the unknown or fear of God does not impact some people such as Godfrey Cass, or his brother, Dunstan Cass, who do the worst acts and yet escape social justice.
  5. Divine Acts: Although some acts purely seem to have physical or social causes such as the forced expulsion of Silas Marner from Lantern Yard, yet some actions seem quite divine fiats or mysterious. Silas, despite his being slightly blasphemous against God, leaves the place but does not believe in it, for it seems quite mysterious to him. The same goes with his finding of the girl, Eppie, whose mother dies on the heath. He rather thinks it a divine act and almost the same goes when he visits Lantern Yard and sees factories having replaced the place as if it has never existed. Such things go beyond human understanding and enter the realm of divine acts.
  6. Class: The novel also shows the theme of class, class difference, and class consciousness through the character of Silas and the situation in which he is placed in Lantern Yard where he has a cottage as compared to the Red House of the Cass family. However, it is the Cass family that proves antagonist rather than vice versa as Dunstan flies away with his gold and Godfrey causes the death of his wife, Molly, without an announcement that she is his wife. In both cases, the upper class goes unpunished, and the representatives of the downtrodden face the mundane as well as divine wrath in the shape of Silas’s expulsion.
  7. Feature of Industrialization: The novel also shows the theme of industrialization through the character of Silas and his expulsion from the rural areas as a symbol of the expulsion of nature. When he is expelled, the upper class, Godfrey Cass, and others have a free hand but when he returns to see Lantern Yard years later, it turns out that industrialization has eradicated even its traces. This shows that industrialization has spared no class differences and that it engulfed the very class it has adopted such as the Cass family.
  8. Chance: Chance and the role that it plays in the life of an individual is another theme significant on account of its occurrence in the life of the protagonist, Silas Marner. When he faces expulsion from Lantern Yard, it is a pure chance that Dunstan Cass steals his gold and others accuse him. It could be that William Dane has deliberately framed him, but even the church accusation proves a chance. The same goes for his finding of Eppie and the death of Molly.
  9. community: The theme of community is significant on account of its relationship with an individual, its attitude, and the role of community conventions in shaping and breaking the fate of an individual such as Silas who has to leave the community to enter some other community after he faces accusations of theft.

Major Characters of Silas Marner

  1. Silas Marner: Silas is not only the main character but also the protagonist who has to go through hell after William Dane, his close friend, frames him in stealing money from the church after which he faces expulsion from Lantern Yard. Reaching Raveloe, Silas starts his professional work of weaving but keeps himself aloof of the social fabric except when he finds out Eppie, a two-year girl, after her mother, Molly, dies in snowfall. Meanwhile, the gold coins he has passionately collected over the period of time disappear for which the entire village of Raveloe comes to sympathize with him. By the end, when Godfrey, the husband of Molly, for whom she has been coming to claim, discloses Eppie as his daughter and Molly as his wife, but Eppie refuses to go with her father, Godfrey, seeing the happiness of her foster father as of paramount importance. However, during this ordeal, Silas not only experiences the loss of faith but also goes through the trial and tribulations of class discrimination as well as extreme penury.
  2. Godfrey Cass: The second significant character of the novel, Godfrey Cassy, is not only the heir of the Cass family but also very good-natured yet does not confess his marriage with Molly until by the end he is forced to lay his claim upon Eppie whom Silas has brought up with love and care. His power and strength, however, do not fully reflect his passive and deceptive nature, for he plays with Molly’s feelings and his daughter’s future. Yet, he becomes a victim of Dunstan’s blackmailing, though, in both cases destiny takes his side, while by the end, Eppie does not accept his claim and prefers to stay with Silas, which is his virtual defeat.
  3. Nancy Lammeter: The second wife of Godfrey Cass, Nancy is a beautiful but highly pig-headed lady who wants to live with the riches available in Raveloe. She becomes the reason for his reticence toward his wife and daughter, which later costs both of them dearly. Her moral framework takes after her father in strictness as well as in adherence. Interestingly, she adheres to this code even during her youthful period and when she is old. The same code forces her to coerce her husband to keep his mum over the issue of his marriage and also stay away from his daughter. However, despite this strict code woven around her, she is a kind person.
  4. Dunstan Cass: The young of the Cass family, Dunstan, demonstrates the laxity of the upbringing of Squire Cass, as he not only proves a luscious young man but also takes to gambling. His blackmailing and stealing go beyond the expectations of his father when he blackmails his real brother for the monetary benefit and even steals the poor man’s money when passes by Silas’ hut. Het meets his Creator in unknown circumstances later.
  5. Dolly Winthrop: A very popular character of Raveloe, Dolly, befriends Silas in the beginning when he arrives there and stays loyal to him until the end. She advises him about his struggle to bring up Eppie. She also advises him about disciplining her in case she tries to cross the boundaries of her teenage years.
  6. Squire Cass: Claiming to be an aristocratic family in the tiny village of Lantern Yard, Squire Cass has not brought up his sons to match the name he has claimed to make in the rural areas. Popular for his dance parties and estate management, he is quite authoritative which is surprising that his son, Dunstan, commits a crime and dies in unknown circumstances and his father does not commit to finding him.
  7. Molly Farren: Belonging to a lower class, Molly is the mother of Eppie and dies on the way to a party when Silas finds her daughter near his hut. She is the wife of Godfrey Cass to whom she is going to cause him consternation for not claiming her yet destiny favors him in her accidental death. An opium addict, Molly takes an overdose of opium and dies after being trapped in a snowstorm.
  8. William Dane: A confident yet devious person, William Dane, is another young man from Lantern Yard who befriends Silas but becomes too troublesome for him. When Silas comes to know about the accusations against him, he sees footprints of his friend. Afterward, when he engages with Sara, the finance of Marner, Silas understands Dane’s game yet he leaves Lantern Yard silently.
  9. Sarah: Fiancée of Silas, Sara loves Marner until he is all right but immediately turns to William Dane after Silas is framed for theft.

Writing Style of Silas Marner

Despite labeling the novel a realistic presentation, George Eliot has adopted a new style of writing highly protracted and winding sentences, though, she does not lose sight of the main thematic strand. The rusticity of the characters peeps through the wording as well as the characters’ conversations. As far as the length of sentences and phrases is concerned, they are of moderate length yet very complex at times due to the descriptions of the abstractions. For literary devices, the author has relied on similes, metaphors, and personifications.

Analysis of the Literary Devices in Silas Marner

  1. Action: The main action of the novel comprises the whole life and growth of Silas Marner to an adult after being accused of theft in Lantern Yard and then his arrival to Raveloe after which he takes care of Eppie until her youthful period. Rising action occurs when his earning of life is stolen by Dunstan Cass. The falling action occurs when Godfrey fails to win Eppie.
  2. Anaphora: The novel shows examples of anaphora such as,
    i. He was well off; and if she had her rights she would be well off too. (Chapter-XII)
    ii. “The mother’s dead, and I reckon it’s got no father; it’s a lone thing — and I’m
    a lone thing. My money’s gone, I don’t know where — and this is come from I
    don’t know where. I know nothing — I’m partly mazed.” (Chapter-XIII)
    These examples show the repetitious use of “well off” and “don’t know where.”
  3. Alliteration: Silas Marner shows the use of alliterations at several places such as,
    i. Such strange lingering echoes of the old demon worship might perhaps even now
    be caught by the diligent listener among the gray-haired peasantry; for the rude
    mind with difficulty associates the ideas of power and benignity. (Chapter-1)
    ii. In fact, there was a general feeling in
    the village, that for the clearing up of this robbery there must be a great deal done
    at the Rainbow. (Chapter-VIII)
    iii. This journey on New Year’s Eve was a premeditated act of vengeance which
    she had kept in her heart ever since Godfrey, in a fit of passion, had told her he
    would sooner die than acknowledge her as his wife. There would be a great party
    at the Red House on New Year’s Even, she knew: her husband would be smiling
    and smiled upon, hiding her existence in the darkest corner of his heart. (Chapter-XII)
    Both of these examples from the novel show the use of consonant sounds such as the sound of /s/, /d/, and /h/ occurring after an interval to make the prose melodious and rhythmic.
  4. Allusion: The novel shows good use of different allusions such as,
    i. The pulpit where the minister delivered unquestioned doctrine, and swayed to and fro, and handled the book in a long accustomed manner; the very pauses between the couplets of the hymn, as it was given out, and the recurrent swell of voices in song: these things had been the channel of divine influences to Marner — they were the fostering home of his religious emotions — they were Christianity and God’s kingdom upon earth. (Chapter-II)
    ii. Eh, that’s a hard name,” said Dolly. “I partly think it isn’t a christened name.”
    “It’s a Bible name,” said Silas, old ideas recurring. (Chapter-XIV)
    iii. Then God Almighty wills it, our secrets are found out. I’ve lived with a secret on my mind, but I’ll keep it from you no longer. (Chapter-XVIII)
    The first example shows the reference to the church, Christianity, and God, the second to the Bible, and the third again to God.
  5. Antagonist: As Silas Marner is a very complicated story, in one sense, Dunstan is its antagonist but in another sense, Silas is also his own enemy on account of his shyness and inability to trust others.
  6. Conflict: The novel shows both external and internal conflicts. The external conflict is going on between Silas Marner and the upper-class society, while the internal conflict is going on in his mind about himself, his obligations, and his living.
  7. Characters: The novel, Silas Marner, shows both static as well as dynamic characters. The young man, Silas Marner, is a dynamic character as he shows a considerable transformation in his behavior and conduct by the end of the novel. However, all other characters are static as they do not show or witness any transformation such as Eppie, Dunstan Cass, Godfrey Cass, Molly, or Nancy.
  8. Climax: The climax in the novel occurs when Silas comes to know about the robbery of his gold. The second climax occurs when he finds the golden-haired Eppie, considering her as a replacement for his loss.
  9. Epigraph: The novel shows the use of epigraphs such as,
    i. “A child, more than all other gifts
    That earth can offer to declining man,
    Brings hope with it, and forward-looking thoughts.” (William Wordsworth in “Michael.”
  10. Foreshadowing: The novel shows many instances of foreshadows such as,
    i. The shepherd’s dog barked fiercely when one of these alien-looking men appeared
    on the upland, dark against the early winter sunset; for what dog likes a figure
    bent under a heavy bag? — and these pale men rarely stirred abroad without that
    mysterious burden. (Chapter-I)
    ii. This is the history of Silas Marner, until the fifteenth year after he came to Raveloe. The livelong day he sat in his loom, his ear filled with its monotony, his eyes bent close down on the slow growth of sameness in the brownish web, his muscles moving with such even repetition that their pause seemed almost as much a constraint as the holding of his breath. (Chapter-II)
    The mention of the dog and life of Silas Marner in the first two chapters respectively shows that the times for him are going to change.
  11. Hyperbole: The novel shows various examples of hyperboles such as,
    i. They had, perhaps, heard their fathers and mothers hint that Silas Marner could
    cure folk’s rheumatism if he had a mind, and add, still more darkly, that if you
    could only speak the devil fair enough, he might save you the cost of the doctor. (Chapter-I)
    ii. Like many violent and implacable men, he allowed evils to grow under favor of his own heedlessness, till they pressed upon him with exasperating force, and then he turned round with fierce severity and became unrelentingly hard. (Chapter-VIII)
    iii. Slowly the demon was working his will, and cold and weariness were his helpers. Soon she felt nothing but a supreme immediate longing that curtained off all futurity — the longing to lie down and sleep. (Chapter-XII)
    These examples exaggerate things such as the devil could not be fair, or that nobody could allow evil to grow and that no demon works his will.
  12. Imagery: Silas Marner shows the use of imagery such as,
    i. The questionable sound of Silas’s loom, so unlike the natural cheerful trotting of the winnowing-machine, or the simpler rhythm of the flail, had a half-fearful fascination for the Raveloe boys, who would often leave off their nutting or birds’-nesting to peep in at the window of the stone cottage, counterbalancing a certain awe at the mysterious action of the loom, by a pleasant sense of scornful superiority, drawn from the mockery of its alternating noises, along with the bent, tread-mill attitude of the weaver. (Chapter-I)
    ii. It was fifteen years since Silas Marner had first come to Raveloe; he was then
    simply a pallid young man, with prominent short-sighted brown eyes, whose appearance would have had nothing strange for people of average culture and experience, but for the villagers near whom he had come to settle it had mysterious peculiarities which corresponded with the exceptional nature of his occupation, and his advent from an unknown region called “North’-ard.” (Chapter-I)
    These two examples show images of sound, color, feelings, and color again are abundant in the novel.
  13. Metaphor: Silas Marner shows the use of various metaphors such as,
    i. The questionable sound of Silas’s loom, so unlike the natural cheerful trotting of the winnowing-machine, or the simpler rhythm of the flail, had a half-fearful fascination for the Raveloe boys, who would often leave off their nutting or birds’-nesting to peep in at the window of the stone cottage, counterbalancing a certain awe at the mysterious action of the loom, by a pleasant sense of scornful superiority, drawn from the mockery of its alternating noises, along with the bent, tread-mill attitude of the weaver. (Chapter-I)
    ii. The light of his faith quite put out, and his affections made desolate, he had clung with all the force of his nature to his work and his money; and like all objects to which a man devotes himself, they had fashioned him into correspondence with themselves. (Chapter-V)
    These examples show that several things have been compared directly in the novel as the first shows a comparison of the sound of the loom with several things and the second shows the comparison of faith with the sun.
  14. Mood: The novel, Silas Marner, shows various moods; it starts with quite a jolly and rustic mood but turns out to be highly depressing and sometimes slightly gladdened and happy.
  15. Motif: Most important motifs of the novel, Silas Marner, are supernatural elements, lies, and God.
  16. Narrator: The novel, Silas Marner, has been narrated by a third-person narrator, who is the author, George Eliot.
  17. Personification: The novel shows examples of personifications such as,
    i. In the days when the spinning-wheels hummed busily in the farmhouses — and even great ladies, clothed in silk and thread-lace, had their toy spinning-wheels of polished oak — there might be seen in districts far away among the lanes, or deep in the bosom of the hills, certain pallid undersized men, who, by the side of the brawny country-folk, looked like the remnants of a disinherited race. (Chapter-I)
    ii. Minds that have been unhinged from their old faith and love, which perhaps sought this Lethean influence of exile, in which the past becomes dreamy because its symbols have all vanished, and the present too is dreamy because it is linked with no memories. (Chapter-II)
    iii. Slowly the demon was working his will, and cold and weariness were his helpers. (Chapter-XII)
    These examples show as if spinning wheels, minds and demons have life and emotions of their own.
  18. Protagonist: Silas Marner is the protagonist of the novel. The novel starts with his entry into the story and moves forward as he faces different ordeals, showing patience, resilience, and fortitude.
  19. Rhetorical Questions: The novel shows good use of rhetorical questions at several places such as,
    i. That was an interesting idea to Dunstan, carrying consequences of entire novelty.
    If the weaver was dead, who had a right to his money? Who would know where
    his money was hidden? Who would know that anybody had come to take it away?
    He went no farther into the subtleties of evidence: the pressing question, “Where
    is the money?” (Chapter-IV)
    ii. ‘Could this be his little sister come back to him in a dream — his little sister whom he had carried about in his arms for a year before she died, when he was a small boy without shoes or stockings? That was the first thought that darted across Silas’s blank wonderment. Was it a dream? (Chapter-XII)
    These examples show the use of rhetorical questions posed but different characters not to elicit answers but to stress upon the underlined idea.
  20. Setting: The setting of the novel, Silas Marner, in the rural England of the previous century. The rural areas have been mentioned as Lantern Yard and Raveloe.
  21. Simile: The novel shows good use of various similes such as,
    i. Such colloquies have occupied many a pair of pale-faced weavers, whose unnurtured
    souls have been like young winged things, fluttering forsaken in the twilight. (Chapter-I)
    ii. The prominent eyes that used to look trusting and dreamy, now looked as if they had been made to see only one kind of thing that was very small, like tiny grain, for which they hunted everywhere. (Chapter-II)
    iii. “Well — stay — let me see,” said Mr. Snell, like a docile clairvoyante, who would not make a mistake if she could help it. (Chapter-VIII)
    iv. There’s a many tunes I don’t make head or tail of; but that speaks to me like the black-bird’s whistle. (Chapter-XI)
    v. Before such calm external beauty the presence of a vague fear is more distinctly felt — like a raven flapping its slow wing across the sunny air. (Chapter-XVII)
    These are similes as the use of the word ‘like’ shows the comparison between different things.