Love in Silas Marner
Show how the theme of love is shown in the novel Silas Marner.
Most literary discourse about Silas Marner accepts love as one of its key concerns. Any discussion of how love is ‘shown’ in the novel requires an examination of the role and function of love a a thematic idea. Since the plot resolution of the novel is primarily concerned with the achievement of purpose and moral reward, especially by the protagonist, any discussion of love inevitably centres around the means by which it enables an individual to be ‘redeemed’ or achieve purpose. Accordingly, this essay will discuss how love is shown by examining three key ideas. These are that unselfish love has the power to redeem an individual, that the lack of genuine love in religious and social structures poisons or reduces the power of these institutions, and finally that an unwillingness to act on the convictions of love leads ultimately to moral insufficiency.
The central focus of the novel, love, is shown by the link that Eliot draws between unselfish love and the prospect of achievement of individual purpose and moral worth. This is most clearly seen in the ‘redemption’ of Silas, which steadily progresses as he shows love and concern for Eppie. This transformation is directly shown by Eliot, who uses the metaphor of a ‘cold narrow prison’ to describe the life of Silas Marner before Eppie’s arrival. Here, the idea of ‘cold’ indicates a lack of human warmth, while the ‘narrow prison’ suggests a limit to Silas’ ability to act, see the world and connect with others, which in turn suggests that the lack of human love in his life resulted in an inability tro find his place and meaning in the wider world. His love for Eppie, however, transforms Silas. His care for Eppie is described as ‘reawakening his senses,’ the personification of ‘sesnses’ which connect one with the world and thus allow discovery of purpose, being used to show the revival or reawakening of Marner’s human capacity for human connection. It is important to note that it is selfless love which is shown to result in this transformation. Silas’ love is of this kind, as we are shown in the mention of his determination to keep the ‘”tramp’s child.”’ The third person narrator shows us that this was a ‘tramp’s child,’ using this colloquialism to suggest that the child was not highly valued by society and therefore that Silas had no ulterior motive in choosing to raise Eppie. To further this link between Silas’ love for Eppie and his achievement of purpose, we are told that ‘angels’ led men ‘away from the city of destruction.’ This is an allusion to Sodom and Gomorrah in the ‘city of destruction,’ which is used to show the extent of the tragedy, or ultimate loss of purpose, that Silas avoids by his love for Eppie, the ‘little child.’ Therefore, it is clear that a link between Silas’ transformation and his unselfish love for Eppie is drawn. Since this transformation is the key occurrence in the novel, love is shown to be a central focus.
Eliot’s presentation of loveless institutions and human structures as destructive to the human soul supports the idea that love is a central focus of the novel. This is suggested in the presentation of the religious community of Lantern Yard, where words such as ‘inquiry’ and ‘cause of the summons’ are used by Eliot when describing the Church’s investigation of Silas. These are reminiscent of technical and legalistic diction in ‘summons’ and ‘inquiry,’ both used in formal court systems. The use of such diction creates a sense of detachment and isolation from emotional concern, which is evident in legal systems and thus in Lantern Yard. Silas is also told ‘you will hear,’ when asking about the cause of this summons. The curtness of this reply and future tense used creates ambiguity which engenders a sense of suspense in the reader. This helps the reader empathise with the unloving preservation of superiority, and therefore lack of love, inherent in a hierarch which is unwilling to reveal Silas’ charge to him. We are also told that the trial was carried out as if the ‘eyes of God’s people were fixed upon’ Silas.’ The use of imagery here reminding the reader of the scrutiny placed upon the accuse, also reminiscent of inquisitorial court systems. This too supports the idea that Lantern Yard is devoid of love and compassion, and the role Lantern Yard has in expelling Silas and causing him to lose his direction in life is thus linked to the incapacity of Lantern Yard to detect William Dane’s hypocrisy because love is lacking. Therefore, the lack of love in institutions hurts the human person. This idea is further supported when Mr Macey remarks that a couple in Raveloe is still married despite the parson reciting the marriage vows ‘contrairy’ because ‘the glue’ which ‘sticks’ them together is still ‘right.’ Here, the colloquial image of the ‘glue’ represents the intangible aspect of marriage that is commitment and love, which is described as fundamental to the marriage. Therefore, the idea that institutions and social structures are meaningless without human love is supported, bringing out the idea that love is of central importance to the improvement of the social institutions present in the novel.
Silas Marner also forwards the message that an unwillingness to act on the convictions of love leads ultimately to moral insufficiency. This is clearly demonstrated in the character of Godfrey Cass, who refuses to admit that Eppie is his child because he fears castigation and thus suffers Eppie’s refusal to become his daughter when she has grown up. In support of this, we are told that Godfrey initially regards Silas’ adoption of Eppie as events turning out ‘so much better’ than the possibility of revelation that Eppie is Godfrey’s illegitimate child, a use of the omniscient narrator to show Godfrey’s relief. Godfrey further attempts to justify his leaving Eppie with Silas Marner by finding reasons that it might be good for Eppie because ‘he would see that it was cared for but ‘perhaps it might be just as happy in life without being owned by its father.’ Here, although the omniscient narrator reveals that Godfrey does feel love for Eppie because of his desire to see her cared for, the constant repetition of reasons why Eppie might be ‘happy’ without being owned by Godfrey reveals his need to rationalize his decision to himself and therefore the fact that it is morally wrong because it goes against his love for Eppie. Furthermore, this decision is shown to be made ultimately in self-interest, as we are told by the omniscient narrator that ‘the father would be much happier without owning the child,’ whereby the narrator cuts away Godfrey’s rationalization of his decision to reveal his underlying emotional reason for abandoning Eppie as self-interested. Therefore, Godfrey lacks the moral courage to act on his love for Eppie by caring for her. This leads Godfrey to end up ultimately unsatisfied in the resolution of the novel, as shown in how he feels the ‘frustration’ of an ‘exalted purpose’ to ‘compensate in some degree’ for abandoning Eppie, when Eppie chooses to stay with Silas Marner. The omniscient narrator reveals to us that Godfrey’s ultimate aim at this point in his life remains unfulfilled, because he has missed the opportunity to act on the convictions of love. Therefore, the novel puts forth the idea that not acting on the convictions of love leads ultimately to dissatisfaction and moral insufficiency.
To sum up, the idea of love is presented in a few central ways in Silas Marner. We are told that unselfish love has the power to redeem individual human beings, that religious and social structures lose their power without love and that the lack of love leads to a loss of purpose and moral worth.
Silas Marner and the Necessity of Human Relationships
Human beings do not thrive in solitude. Every hero has a supporting team, and every protagonist must maintain a close group of allies in order to ever truly succeed. George Eliot’s Silas Marner furthers this idea that, although there is evil in the world, intimate human relationships are capable of creating happiness in the midst of brokenness.
As demonstrated by Silas and his isolation from the community of Raveloe, those who lack human relationships suffer great adverse effects. For instance, as stated by Durham in his article “Silas Marner and the Wordsworthian Child”, “[Silas] endures a fifteen-year period of spiritual numbness and indifference which George Eliot characterizes as a condition of rootlessness, specifically a psychic fragmentation, a loss of awareness of his personal past.” Silas refuses to acknowledge his past and the people who were involved in it. From friends who betrayed him to authority figures who banished him, it seems as if every relationship in Silas’s life has crumbled before him. He’s afraid to acknowledge that brokenness and he is even more afraid to begin new relationships in the community of Raveloe. As a result of this refusal, his life becomes dull, dark, and largely meaningless. Silas “hated the idea of the past; there was nothing that called out his love and fellowship toward the strangers he had come against; and the future was all dark” (15). The people of his past damaged him deeply: they forced him to draw the conclusion that there was no being in this world or any other who held any love for him. For the fifteen years that he has been residing in Raveloe, Silas has refused to believe in the necessity of loving others or being loved himself. He has turned everyone away and has accepted a life of quiet and bitter solitude, barely surviving and living for only one thing: his gold. Pieces of gold; however, make for poor company, and every “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 this brownish web” (20). Life simply drags on for Silas, devoid of happiness, meaning, or light. Every day is the same dull routine, and every day he becomes more and more withered and hopeless, becoming more like an insect and less like a human. Silas begins to lose everything as he remains trapped in the idea of an evil and loveless world, of a world where people disappoint and where God holds no special concern for his creations. The past is painful and the future is hopeless, and the only thing that Silas can do about it is to weave in monotony and live for the moments when his gold will ease his pain. Because of such extreme isolation, the villagers in Raveloe regard Silas with a “mixture of contemptuous pity, dread, and suspicion” (40). After all his years of solitude, he has pushed every last person away; he has committed himself to a life utterly devoid of human relationships. Yet although Silas believes that living alone is best, he begins to feel a sense of warmth as he bursts into the Rainbow on the night of the robbery. Despite his greatest efforts to tell himself how unnecessary human relations are, he begins to find comfort in the community at the moment when he needs it most.
As Silas loses his gold and receives Eppie instead, he demonstrates how the presence of another human being causes integration within a community. For instance, as stated by Ermarth in his description of Silas’s life after finding Eppie, “the remainder of Silas’s story mainly concerns his difficulties in raising the child he calls Eppie, and the necessity, brought on him by her surprising infant habits, for more recourse to his neighbours for advice.” As Silas begins to open himself up to the idea of raising a child, he is almost forced into becoming friendlier with his neighbors in Raveloe. His chief concern is doing right by Eppie and raising her in the best possible way, and he realizes that this can only be achieved through the help of others. Thus, not only does Silas gain happiness as a result of the child who has entered his life, he also finds fulfillment in being part of a community, as brought on by his love for another. As Silas continues to care for Eppie, “there was no repulsion around him now, either young or old; for the little child had come to link him once more with the whole world” (129). Silas’s life is radically changed by the appearance of a child who seems to take some of the darkness out of this world. Eppie gives him a reason to live and to find love once again. She brought him joy in more ways than one, by integrating him into a supportive community and by giving him something to love and care for. Before Eppie, Silas would not even entertain the idea of attending the church or getting to know his neighbors. However, in Silas’s determination to give the child everything that she needed, both Eppie and Silas were baptized and truly welcomed into the community. “On this occasion Silas, making himself as clean and tidy as he could, appeared for the first time within the church, and shared in the observances held sacred by his neighbours” (123). Doing such a thing had been the farthest thought from Silas’s mind during the time of his life when he was still cynical of human relationships and angry at a God who didn’t love him. Yet at the arrival of Eppie, he hardly hesitates to appear at the church. Thus Eppie “created fresh and fresh links between his life and the lives from which he had hitherto shrunk continually into narrower isolation” (123). She is a blessing to his life and the sole reason why he was pulled out of his misery and darkness. Eppie forced him out of his shell and was the direct cause of an integration that never would have happened without her.
Finally, Silas finds his joy and fulfillment as the result of raising a child and becoming part of a greater community. For instance, as explained by Auster, “the community remains essentially the same, but the author now provides it with an opportunity to demonstrate its humanity, good will, and potential for genuine sociability, which serve to soften, if not erase, our awareness of its crudeness…his participation in social intercourse humanizes him” (Auster 3). Although the basic structure in the community has not changed, Silas’s role in it has. Instead of doing his best to avoid all relations with Raveloe, he has become an active member in it and reaps the benefits because of it. He’s no longer insect-like or miserable, with his gold as his only friend. He has been ushered into the community by Eppie and begins to understand that such loving relationships can take the sting out of the darkness in the world. As Silas is considering Eppie, he states that “There’s good i’ this world—I’ve a feeling o’ that now; and it makes a man feel as there’s a good more nor he can see, i’ spite o’ the trouble and the wickedness. That drawing o’ the lots is dark; but the child was sent to me: there’s dealings with us—there’s dealings” (141). Instead of focusing on the injustices that have happened to him in the past, Silas focuses on the potential for light in his future. There is evil and there is good in the world, and the outlook that Silas takes changes everything. Because he found so much love in his heart for Eppie, Silas’s entire reality shifts from one of despair to one of hope. He becomes a member of the community, a smaller part of a larger whole, and finally finds his salvation because of it. As he is talking to Eppie, he says, “Eh, my precious child, the blessing was mine. If you hadn’t been sent to save me, I should ha’ gone to the grave in my misery…our life is wonderful” (160). Everything about Silas has changed, and he knows it. He recognizes just how miserable he was before he began forging human relationships and before he accepted the true necessity of loving another person. His entire existence was dark and lonely, and he was left with nothing more than his negative outlook and stubborn determination to stick to the idea that there is no light in the world. Yet Eppie took away all of that pain and ushered in the type of hope that can only be the cause of an intimate human relationship. Silas has a renewed hope in the world around him and finally comes back to the idea that there is a supernatural being above who cares for him and who loves him. As he is considering the blessing that Eppie has been in his life, he states, “since the child was sent to me and I’ve come to love her as myself, I’ve had light enough to trusten by; and now she says she’ll never leave me, I think I shall trusten till I die” (173). The strength of Eppie’s love has created true and genuine joy in Silas’s life. He is finally capable of trusting a community once again, and he is able to return to the idea that there is a greater and loving power that is watching over him. Instead of being confined to the monotonous misery that was his reality for fifteen years, Silas finds comfort and delight in a child who has changed everything for him.
There is certainly darkness in the world, but the presence of intimate human relationships makes such a darkness seem insignificant at times. The power of love will always trump the power of evil, and the support that a community can bring to a lonely person’s life is unparalleled by any other force. With the advent of new relationships and new reasons to love, the pain suddenly transforms into potential and happiness. A close community of supportive neighbors and friends is capable of transforming entire outlooks on life. These are the themes that dominate Silas Marner, a novel defined by a view of human nature that is fundamentally optimistic. Instead of looking for the bad, people begin to actively search for the good. Instead of focusing on the evil, they rejoice in the light.
Alley, Henry. “Silas Marner and the Anonymous Heroism of Parenthood.” The Quest for Anonymity: The Novels of George Eliot (University of Delaware Press, 1997): pp. 71–81. Quoted as “Silas Marner and the Anonymous Heroism of Parenthood” in Bloom, Harold, ed. Silas Marner, Bloom’s Modern Critical Interpretations. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishing, 2002. Bloom’s Literature. Facts On File, Inc. Web. 15 Nov. 2015
Auster, Henry. Local Habitations: Regionalism in the Early Novels of George Eliot, (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1970): 188–194. Quoted as “The Redemption of Raveloe” in Harold Bloom, ed. George Eliot, Bloom’s Major Novelists. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishing, 2003. (Updated 2007.) Bloom’s Literature. Facts On File, Inc. Web. 15 Nov. 2015
Dunham, Robert H. “Silas Marner And The Wordsworthian Child.” Studies In English Literature (rice) 16.4 (1976): 645. Academic Search Complete. Web. 17 Nov. 2015
Ermarth, Elizabeth Deeds. “George Eliot’s Conception of Sympathy.” Nineteenth-Century Fiction 40, no. 1 (June 1985): 23–42. Quoted as “George Eliot’s Conception of Sympathy” in Bloom, Harold, ed. Silas Marner, Bloom’s Modern Critical Interpretations. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishing, 2002. Bloom’s Literature. Facts On File, Inc. Web. 15 Nov. 2015
Gilbert, Sandra M. “Life’s Empty Pack: Notes Toward a Literary Daughteronomy.” George Eliot, ed. K.M. Newton, (New York: Longman Group, 1991): 106–109. Quoted as “The Significance of Daughterhood” in Harold Bloom, ed. George Eliot, Bloom’s Major Novelists. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishing, 2003. (Updated 2007.) Bloom’s Literature. Facts On File, Inc. Web. 15 Nov. 2015
Shmoop Editorial Team. “Silas Marner.” Shmoop. Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.
Setting and Character Change in Silas Marner
George Eliot’s novel, Silas Marner, conveys the power of the church in Victorian era England over the lives of its parishioners. Silas, in the opening pages, is an innocent, albeit naïve, God-fearing Christian. When the church of Lantern Yard convicts him of theft, a crime which he was framed for by best friend, he is led to believe that God has abandoned him, and that he can no longer trust the church. He retreats then to the fictional village of Raveloe, becoming a recluse and the object of much of the town’s superstitions. Despite being thought of as a devil worshipper by some townsfolk, he prefers Raveloe as it is more easygoing and less ardent in religion. As England grows more industrial, communities like Raveloe are becoming difficult to find, making it the perfect out-of-the-way place where Silas could begin anew. This new town, despite lacking the sort of religious fervor of Lantern Yard, came to be the place where Silas at last began to rediscover himself and recommit to God.The detail with which Eliot writes about the community depicts a feeling of nostalgia for “old England”, which was rapidly beginning to fade. Describing Raveloe as “snug” and “nestled,” Eliot gives the town a comfortable feeling, making it feel as if it were a place of refuge. When looked upon from this angle, it becomes clear why the spiritually and emotionally damaged Silas sought life here, rather than in a urban center like London.The titular character of Eliot’s Silas Marner undergoes dramatic, yet passive changes throughout the course of the plot. Silas renounced his Christian faith after the incident in Lantern Yard, forcing himself to live as a recluse in the village of Raveloe. The devotion he felt toward God, however, was not eradicated, but replaced by devotion toward money. Despite being a miser, Silas remains a kind and honest person. After learning of the theft of his treasure, and suspecting a neighbor, Jem Rodney, Silas does not threaten legal action against him, but merely asks for the safe return of his money. “‘If it was you stole my money,” said Silas, clasping his hands entreatingly, and raising his voice to a cry, “give it me back, and I won’t meddle with you. I won’t set the constable on you.’” (ch.7 pg. 57)Silas’ love of money is instantly shattered when his hoard of treasure disappears. For a time, he is depressed and without a purpose in life. Like all humanity, Silas required a purpose in life, something which he could work toward and would give him happiness in life. For much of his life leading up to the incident in Lantern Yard, Silas fills this longing with his love of God. After the loss of his money, his life becomes dedicated to, who he initially perceives to be the physical manifestation of his gold, Eppie. Despite knowing nothing about child rearing, Silas is determined to keep her, believing that she was given to him to fill the void in his life. “‘No-no- I can’t part with it, I can’t let it go,” said Silas abruptly. “It’s come to me-I’ve a right to keep it.’” (Ch. 13 pg. 121) His neighbors, and indeed, Silas himself are surprised by his conviction to keep the child whom he had only met by pure chance. Nevertheless, Eppie has a profound impact on his life, and begins the process of restoring Silas’ shattered soul. Silas’ most prominent characteristic, however, is his change in attitude toward the community of Raveloe. Whereas he initially wanted nothing to do with them, treating the people only as a source for more gold, over the course of the novel, Silas becomes an upstanding member of the community, one whom the people of Raveloe come to respect and admire. Eppie, being energetic and curious, frequently drew Silas away from his loom work, and accompanied him on his trips for wool. The sight of the two sparked a change in the minds of the people, revealing that their earlier impressions of Silas were wrong, and that, like each of them, he was simply human. “But now Silas was met with open smiling faces and cheerful questioning, as a person whose satisfactions and difficulties could be understood.” (Ch. 14 pg. 138)Throughout the novel, community and character change often go hand in hand. Silas’ reemergence into the public sphere following his self-imposed exile reveals the effect a change in setting can have. By the end of the novel, Silas, though no longer the same man he once was, is arguably stronger, the great ordeals of his life having resulted in positive change upon his life.
Light and Darkness in Silas Marner
There is a reason people are afraid of the dark. For anyone who has ever seen a single horror movie, it is clear that when the lights go off the bad guys and monsters come out, and all one has to do to make them go back into hiding is turn the lights back on. In George Eliot’s novel Silas Marner, Silas’s life is reflected by this same idea. His life is put in the dark when he is accused of theft and leaves his hometown Lantern Yard only to be excluded and even more alone in his new home, Raveloe, turning him to the companionship of money rather than people. However, his inner demons go away when he adopts an orphan, Eppie, bringing his life back into light and community. The movement from darkness to light characterizes the initial exclusion and eventual rebirth in Silas Marner’s life.
When Silas’s life takes a turn for the negative, there are many symbols that represent his life as one in darkness. His life is initially characterized by darkness from living in Lantern Yard. Silas, a native to Lantern Yard and a devout Christian, is watching over his town’s dying deacon at night when he has a cataleptic fit, preventing him from moving, seeing what is happening, or knowing any time has passed, when his ex-best friend William Dane comes into the house, steals the church money from the deacon’s bedside and plants Silas’s pocketknife in return as to frame Silas for the theft. This represents the first of many evils in Silas’s life, all of which occur in the night or darkness. Silas is kicked out of the church and his fiancée calls off their marriage, prompting him to leave Lantern Yard for another town, Raveloe, in which his life consists of seemingly endless solitude, driving him to greedily seek company in his gold earnings from weaving. The town name of Lantern Yard is ironic yet significant because although it sounds like a place of light, it actually brings Silas nothing but darkness as he loses everything and everyone he has ever known, saying that, “The little light [Silas] possessed spread its beams so narrowly that frustrated belief was a curtain broad enough to create for him the blackness of night” (Eliot 14). Silas felt close to God right up until the moment when the casting of the lots deemed him guilty, and Lantern Yard symbolizes the dying light of Silas’s faith, which instead turns into a dark soul when he moves to Raveloe, a place that rejects newcomers.
In his new town, Silas feels that “there was nothing that called out his love and fellowship toward the strangers he has come amongst; and the future was all dark, for there was no Unseen Love that cared for him” (Eliot 14). This is how Silas’s life in Raveloe continues for 15 years—no kinship or religion to bring light and joy into Silas’s life, but only darkness and hopelessness. In the midst of this, another evil arises out of the darkness—greed. Silas spends his days thoughtless at his loom, but “at night came his revelry: at night he closed his shutters, and made fast his doors, and drew out his gold” (Eliot 19). Silas begins to worship and obsess over his gold, dragging his mind into and endless loop of greed at his love for money and anxiety at the thought of losing it. However, one dark and stormy night he neglects to lock his door while leaving for an errand, and Dunsey Cass slips into his cottage without obstacle and steals his money. Soon afterwards, Silas discovers the absence of his idol, and, “The sight of the empty hole made his heart leap violently, but the belief that his gold was gone could not come at once—only terror, and the eager effort to put an end to the terror” (Eliot 40). Once again, Silas’s life is plunged into darkness as the only thing he has to cling onto is wrenched from his grasp. All of the torments in Silas’s life source from the darkness in which thieves can go unnoticed and there are no responsibilities to distract from lust and sin. However, it is these dim events and Silas’s despaired reaction to them that bring him the most light.
Silas’s life changes for the best as new light comes to him through companionship. He first finds companionship in his neighbors in Raveloe though their pity for him because of the robbery. They are more able to relate to him now that he is just as poor as the rest of them, and they comfort him in the Rainbow when he tells the story of the theft of his gold. Trying their best to find the culprit of the crime and bringing Silas meals to make up for the ones he can no longer afford, they welcome Silas into the folds of their community, and although he still feels like an outsider to some, Dolly Winthrop is kind to him and becomes his best friend, and even the vain parish clerk Mr. Macey defends him to the other townsfolk. However, the real light enters Silas’s life through Eppie, his adopted daughter. Molly Farren is trudging towards the Red House in the snow when she overdoses on opium and dies with her child in her arms. Her child, seeing the light of the hearth in the open door of Silas’s cottage, stumbles in and falls asleep in front of the fire.
Silas has another cataleptic fit as he opens the door because he hears the noise of Molly and Eppie walking, leaving the door wide open for Eppie to tumble in unnoticed, and when he recovers and sees her, his immediate thought is that her golden curls are actually his guineas returned. Although he is initially disappointed that she is not, she brings more light into his life than his gold ever had as he adopts her and they grow an unbelievably close bond. Her joyful presence excite the neighbors when Silas and Eppie come around, and any remaining thought of Silas as a creepy old miser disappears when they see the kind deed he has done by taking the child in and loving her as his own. Eppie leads Silas away from exclusion and despair just as “men are led away from threatening destruction; a hand is put into theirs, which leads them forth gently towards a calm and bright land, so that they look no more backward; and the hand may be a little child’s” (Eliot 134). This allusion to the story of Lot being led out of Sodom and Gomorrah by an angel shows the complete turnaround Eppie brings into Silas’s life—from loneliness to community, from darkness to light. Even though Silas’s questions about God and the casting of the lots in Lantern Yard will never be answered, Silas is content, saying, “Since the time the child was sent to me and I’ve come to love her as myself, I’ve had enough light to trusten by” (Eliot 181). Silas means by this that even though the casting of the lots caused him to lose his faith in God, he trusts in the Lord once again because He blessed him with Eppie, who brought new meaning and love into his life.
Silas’s life, once in darkness representing isolation, is transformed into light and companionship. Although the darkness in Silas’s life initially brought him nothing but pain, he is eventually able to come to terms with darkness and not view it as something negative. When Silas is disappointed to find that Lantern Yard has been transformed into a factory town and he will never receive his answers about faith and the lots, Dolly consoles him that maybe the darkness is not all bad, saying, “It’s the will o’ Them above as many things should be dark to us; but there’s some things as I’ve never felt i’ the dark about, and they’re mostly what comes i’ the day’s work” (Eliot 180). Silas accepts that not all darkness is bad, but it is God’s will to keep some things in the dark while others in the light. The seemingly impossible coincidences of the timing of Dunsey entering Silas’s cottage the only time it was ever unlocked and vacant and the precise moments in which Silas fell into fits during which the church money was stolen and later Eppie walked into his cottage show that although God seemed to have abandoned Silas after the casting of the lots, He actually did not, but instead had to temporarily shed darkness on Silas’s life so that he could later be renewed with greater light than before. This reconciliation of light and darkness in Silas’s life finally allows him to have peace with his past and present life.
The Profession of Silas Marner: Weaver or Nothing
Whether it be a businessman or a chef, writer or teacher, one’s profession often reveals insight into a person and immediately creates a stereotype for an individual. While some jobs hold prestigious standing in societal stereotypes, others may wrongly detract from someone’s image on a basis in no way connected to the real person. In George Eliot’s novel Silas Marner, the namesake character holds the profession of weaver, which holds a sort of mystery to others. The ideas of what a weaver is like and how weaving is intermixed throughout literature and one’s own life story are prevalent themes throughout the novel. Thus, the importance of Eliot’s choosing Silas to be a weaver instead of another profession reveals complex, hidden undertones. While much of Silas Marner’s life is mystery to the residents of Raveloe, he remains a common topic of discussion and lore due to his line of work as a weaver.
The life of a weaver, full of travel and isolation, was often accompanied by lore created by the people of the town said weaver was currently residing in. Such a reaction is detailed in describing that “the shepherd dog barked fiercely when one of these alien-looking men appeared…the shepherd himself, though he had good reason to believe that the bag held nothing but flaxen thread, was not quite sure that this trade of weaving, indispensable though it was, could be carried on entirely without the help of the Evil One” (Eliot 1). Weavers were viewed as aliens no matter what town they were in. Despite near certainty that they were simply carrying material for their important job in society, men such as Silas Marner were still viewed as outcasts and friends of the Evil One. Silas was an outcast from the time he first wove, thus forcing him into isolation he would likely never escape from. Herein lies the importance of Eliot creating Silas as a weaver, he undoubtedly becomes an outcast no matter his character. Silas Marner isn’t Silas Marner and cannot fulfill his story without beginning in isolation, surrounded by skepticism.
Silas could hold any number of professions that incur stereotypes upon him, but the importance of weaving lies in the social undertones of isolation and societal rejection. However, Silas being a weaver is not an irrelevant fact, it becomes his entire life to the point that “He seemed to weave, like the spider, from pure impulse, without reflection. Every man’s work, pursued steadily, tends in this way to become an end in itself, and so to bridge over the loveless chasms of life” (Eliot 14). Silas is not a man who weaves, his entire existence is found in his job, thus allowing him to completely fulfill his occupational title and its stereotype and advance his life story. While Silas Marner’s weaving is necessary to his life, his occupation also reveals the undertones of classical literature woven in throughout the novel. The Fates of Greek mythology controlled the metaphorical thread of life for every human from birth until death, the cutting of the thread. Fate often holds a negative connotation due to the sense of futility and weakness it brings to one’s life. Silas acknowledges that his own life is not his to control when he acknowledges “a cruel power that no hands could reach, which had delighted in making him a second time desolate…” (Eliot 42). Silas recognizes the hand of fate in his life, and also in doing so attributes a negative connotation to the word in his description of fate as cruel, unrestricted, and delighted in his pain.
The Fates use of thread to represent life is a subtle connection to Silas as a weaver. Thus, a connection is created which will aid in shaping Silas’ life, as fate has a great part in his life despite his own animosity towards fate. Eliot makes another reference to fate when he states “When we are treated well, we naturally begin to think that we are not altogether unmeritorious, and that it is only just we should treat ourselves well, and not mar our own good fortune” (Eliot 121). This adds to the idea that nobody controls their own life and that good fortune wrongly encourages reward. This is another allusion to fate and the Greek Fates controlling life. Thus, Silas being a weaver creates the connection between the idea of a single thread uncontrollable by human hands representing life, and idea Silas initially despises. The final way in which Silas Marner’s job is important to the central idea of the story is in how his seemingly rough life is united by multiple events that are eventually woven together to not only create his own life story but to unite him with Raveloe. These events are all catalysts for some change that will eventually shape who Silas becomes, but the events are all connected in that they stem from Silas’ job as a weaver. The community from which he was long an outcast ends as his welcoming home, a development brought about by a series of principal events.
The drawing of lots sends Silas to Raveloe and the the stolen gold takes away any semblance of happiness Silas had, but the single most important event in his life is Eppie coming to him. When defending his right to keep Eppie, Silas states that “When a man turns a blessing from his door, it falls to them as take it in” (Eliot 171). This is an acknowledgment on the part of Silas that Eppie is a blessing that came to him, a blessing that will ultimately change his life for the better. Yet again, Silas’ isolation as a weaver and fate have a great impact on his life in the form of bringing Eppie into his life, the single most life changing event he experiences. The circumstance of Eppie’s adoption eventually unites Silas with the community he was long excluded from. The culmination of Silas’ life is “the garden fenced with stones on two sides, but in front there was an open fence, through which the flowers shone with answering gladness, as the four united people came within sight of them. ‘Oh Father’ said Eppie. ‘what a pretty home ours is! I think nobody could be happier than we are.’” (Eliot 183). Both the traumatic and the happy events, all caused by a profession, woven together create the life of Silas Marner. Silas may be a weaver accosted by fate, but he is truly a blessed man who fate rewards in the end despite his former adversity.
Silas Marner is a living stereotype who experiences intense joy eventually due to a combination of fate and intertwined catalytic events. Life is a series of events leading to a single culmination, but the life of Silas Marner is special in that none of it would be possible if he simply had a different job. Silas is a weaver, but his life story is a woven masterpiece. A simple weaver, outcast by society, endures numerous hardships for which fate is blamed. However, every event is woven together by Eliot to create a life story worthy of celebration. There is literary importance to Silas’ profession as without it Silas Marner is simply another citizen of Raveloe.
From Rags to Riches: Comparing Job to George Eliot’s Silas Marner
Whether it be getting a cold or losing a loved one, suffering is something everyone will experience. Ironically, suffering is one of the main reasons we have happiness; although we suffer, eventually our pain will be resolved. Many stories have been created based on this concept, like the story of Job in the Old Testament, for example. Job’s faith was tested by God, and after enduring great pain and loss, Job’s life was restored when he proved his faith to be true. A book demonstrating this idea is George Eliot’s novel Silas Marner. In this story, Silas Marner resembles a similar scenario to that of Job’s. Silas’s constant loss and deep depression is eventually healed with the arrival of Eppie, just like how Job’s trials were ended when he proved that he could keep his faith in God. Silas Marner channels the earlier figure of Job through his suffering, loss, and redemption.
The first way in which Silas represents Job is through the suffering Silas experiences in the story. In the beginning of the novel, Silas is betrayed by his “friend” William Dane, left by his wife Sarah who then marries William Dane, and is later cut off from the church, so that he feels as though he has been betrayed by his friends, family, and most importantly God. Not even the omniscient and all-powerful loving God wants Silas in his life, Silas concludes. The narrator remarks on Silas’s loneliness, saying, “Thus it came to pass that his movement of pity towards Sally Oates, which had given him a transient sense of brotherhood, heightened the repulsion between him and his neighbors, and made his isolation more complete” (Eliot 16). Silas begins to sympathize with Sally Oates, a lady struck with heart disease, he realizes how alone he really is. He is completely and utterly shut off from any being. Another quote also demonstrates Silas’s loneliness and suffering. Eliot compares Silas’s life to that of an insect, saying, “There were the calls of hunger; and Silas, in his solitude, had to provide his own breakfast, dinner, and supper, to fetch his own water from the well, and put his own kettle on the fire; and all these immediate promptings helped, along with the weaving, to reduce his life to the unquestioning activity of a spinning insect” (Eliot 14). Silas’s life is compared to an insect because he essentially feels useless and helpless in the world. He has no one to go to and no one will receive him. He does these tedious tasks with no help which shows that he is like a robot mindlessly doing work with no real sense of purpose. The suffering that is brought up from his separation from society must be nearly unbearable for Silas. But this suffering that Silas experiences also represents the suffering of Job in the Bible. In Job’s second trial, he is plagued with painful boils and sores in order to test his faith towards God. The Bible states, “So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head” (New International Version, Job 2:7). Job has to withstand this agony from Satan, and yet still keeps his faith in God. Both Job and Silas’s situations are similar, however, Job endures a more physical suffering while Silas experiences a mental and emotional suffering.
The second way in which Silas portrays Job is though Silas’s loss. As aforementioned, Silas loses his family, friends, and faith right at the beginning of the story. The narrator describes these losses, saying, “Poor Marner, went out with that despair in his soul—that shaken trust in man which is little short of madness to a loving nature…her whole faith must be upset, as his was” (Eliot 11). Right as he discovers that both his friend and God have betrayed him, he concludes that his own fiancee will leave him as well. This short sequence of losing everything he has draws Silas away from happiness and leaves him in despair. In that period of time when he had absolutely no one to go to, Silas clings on to his money as it becomes literally the only thing that he cares about in his life. This money, which is basically Silas’s family, is stolen by Dustan Cass. Eliot describes Silas’s pain when finding out his money is lost, saying, “He could see every object in his cottage—and his gold was not there. Again he put his trembling hands to his head, and gave a wild wringing scream, the cry of desolation” (Eliot 41). When Silas realizes that his money has been stolen, he cries as if he had just lost a family member. At this point Silas has absolutely nothing: no friends, no family, no faith, and none of his own meaningful belongings. Similarly to how Silas loses everything, Job also experiences the same situation. In Job’s first trial, all of his animals and siblings are taken away from him by Satan. “A messenger came to Job and said, ‘The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing nearby, and the Sabeans attacked and carried them off’…The fire of God fell from the sky and burned up the sheep and the servants…Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you” (New International Version, Job 1:14-19). In these verses, it describes all the possessions and loved ones that Job loses as part of his test. His animals, servants, and family are all taken from him, similarly to how Silas’s family, friends, faith, and possessions were taken from him. Both Job and Silas are left in despair as they lose all that is meaningful to them.
One final way in which Silas is similar to Job involves the redemption that they both eventually receive. For Silas, he regains his happiness through his encounter with Eppie. Once Silas finds Eppie and comes to care for her, he realizes he does not need his money, he just needs someone to love to find happiness. Once Eppie comes into his life, Silas begins to assimilate into society. Eliot symbolizes his acceptance into the community with the pipe, saying, “Silas had taken to smoking a pipe daily during the last two years, having been strongly urged to it by the sages of Raveloe” (Eliot 143). This pipe symbolizes his assimilation because it shows that he is doing things that are also done by the community, and that he is finally fitting in with society. After Part II of the novel begins, we see that Silas has changed very much over the 16 years he has had with Eppie. He is now a family man, has a daughter, a home filled with pets, friends in his town, restored faith, etc. After going through so much suffering and loss, Eppie brings him back and redeems him from his misery. In fact, at the end of the story, Eppie exclaims, “Oh Father, what a pretty home ours is! I think nobody could be happier than we are” (Eliot 183). This is an amazing comeback for Silas. At the beginning of the book we see that he is in the darkest place of his life, but at the end, however, he is described as the happiest man alive. This transition shows the redemption the Silas finally gets, and it represents the same redemption the Job acquires. In the Bible, after Job has lost all his over ones, suffered extremely painful boils and sores, he is finally redeemed by God. Job keeping his faith strong is the key to his redemption, like Eppie is for Silas. When Job remains faithful, God restores his family and belongings, even more than what he had before. The Bible states, “After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before.All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house…The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part…Nowhere in all the land were there found women as beautiful as Job’s daughters, and their father granted them an inheritance along with their brothers” (New International Version, Job 42:10-15). This passage shows Job’s redemption for keeping his faith. Similar to Silas, Job had nothing left, but kept his faith strong, which ultimately led to his restoration. So both Silas and Job experience redemption, Silas finding it though Eppie, and Job finding it through God.
Throughout both Silas Marner and the book of Job, we see two men who both lose everything, and experience great suffering. Both Silas and Job lose their friends, family, faith, and belongings, with the exception of Job keeping his faith. Both endure very hard suffering: Silas deals with great depression and loneliness, while Job is afflicted with boils and sores all over his body. All of these things show the similarities between the two stories, supporting the argument that Silas Marner by George Eliot is a clear re-portrayal of the story of Job. Although they struggle, both Silas and Job are eventually redeemed in the end.
Victimization in Silas Marner
In George Elliot’s Silas Marner, the protagonist undergoes a series of events that emphasize victimization from culture and people of the surrounding area. The images of Lantern Yard’s betrayal, seclusion, stolen gold, and the discovery of Eppie show Silas’s quest for self within the breaking and rebuilding of his soul. Throughout the novel, the author uses the literary technique irony to create the destruction and failure surrounding Silas’s journey. The theme quest for self exposes Silas’s inner thoughts and hidden actions behind his cold, stern attitude towards the citizens of Raveloe.
First, the author uses the image of Lantern Yard’s betrayal to evoke the beginning of Silas’s digression in society. Marner surrounds himself with individuals who create a façade of Christian values to camouflage the true crushing nature of mankind. Citizens of Lantern Yard create a bubble around their community’s image, while trapped outside their safe haven remains the reality of deception, lies, and jealousy. Silas treasures his relationship with his best friend William and fiancé Sarah. Jealousy erupted from the inside of William Dane, blinding him of his great relationship and allowing “Satan an advantage” to destroy all happiness between the two men (11). A pocketknife placed beside a “bag of church money” condemned Silas to a crime that turned the community against him (10). Mr. Marner’s faith in God and the Christian town overflows his spirit with hope, even with the discovery of Mr. Dane voicing false accusations pertaining to the previous night. Cracks form over the joyful heart; however, the hopeful spirit shall not fall. Sticks drawn to determine a fate, an outcome that changes the path of the weaver Silas Marner. Refusing to draw to determine the outcome of his false crime, Silas waits patiently for the humble God to save him from the judgmental stares of his once called friends. A twisting turn shakes the trial when the “lots declared guilty” against the main character (12). The church suspended his membership and shunned his existence, William fulfilled his jealous rage, and Sarah left her fiancé in the dust; furthermore, leaving Silas alone to his shattered soul. Marner blamed God for his loss, and lost all faith in the man he once worshiped whole-heartedly. The hardships slammed into the protagonist all in a span of a few hours, leaving him buried beneath the broken mess of his once cheerful life. Silas Marner left Lantern Yard a broken, soulless skeleton, believing he held no purpose on earth.
Second, the writer uses the image of seclusion to evoke the bone bag character’s life with no purpose. The dull travel from Lantern Yard to little Raveloe led Marner deep into seclusion. Zero human contact and a destroyed inner hope allow walls to build around the few pieces of heart left together. The curtains over the protagonist’s windows create the “blackness of night” never allowing any rays of light in the stone cottage (14). The solitude Silas created for himself solidified his heart in layers of ice, and nothing “called out his love” for he stayed hidden with his loom as comfort (15). Mrs. Osgood requested a table linen, which she paid Mr. Marner in gold for. The money “fulfilled a purpose” when no other earthly desire helped Silas feel tiny amounts of goodness (16). Gold guineas, a materialistic item, overtook the small amount of care Silas still held close to him. The old, bitter man makes a life of weaving and hoarding money to fulfill his empty life.
Third, Elliot uses the image of stolen gold to evoke Silas’s fight against the world. Dunstan Cass reveals a cunning, manipulative personality mixed with greed and self-righteousness. Mr. Fowler, a tenant of Mr. Cass’s lodge, pays his rent; however, Dunstan obtains the crowns to live and please his ravish lifestyle. Consequences arise through the clouds of guilt; Godfrey Cass pleads with Dunstan to not put a man on the streets and “hand the money” back to the rightful owner (23). With little care of what happens to the man, the younger Cass brother sets of to sell Wildfire, a horse, to gain money to repay Mr. Fowler’s rent. All the community members of Raveloe know of the secret stash of gold hidden in the Marner cottage. Ideas appear in Dunstan’s mind tempting him to ransack the stone cottage “between the bricks” for the treasure (36). Unaware of the trouble lurking outside the home, Silas leaves his cottage unlocked while he travels to town. Suffering a fatal blow, Dunstan seeks the easiest path to gathering enough money, stealing Marner’s “hard won money” (15). The temptation led Dunstan to his destination, and left an innocent man left with nothing. The world destroys the new life Silas built for himself after his haunting past, and surrounds Silas with doubt of ever returning to a soul full of life.
Last, Elliot uses the image of the discovery of Eppie to evoke the rebuilding and soaking of joy into Marner’s soul. Tragic events one winter night led to the meeting of Eppie and Silas. The “demon working his will” forbade Eppie’s mother from continuing her journey to reach Godfrey Cass, and silently passed away in the brutal winter winds (103). Child curiosity sparked when a “bright glancing light” landed on the white floors, leading the young one to the safe, comforting, and warm home (104). Silas wakes from his slumber, discovering a “heap of gold” in front of the fire in his living quarters (105). Excitement reaches his eyes; as Silas hurries over he discovers the gold turn into long stripes of soft hair. The two individuals connect through deep understanding of loneliness, and slowly create a relationship of “father and daughter” (131). Marner mends his forgotten soul with Eppie, his new light and hope.
In conclusion, George Elliot uses the images Lantern Yard’s betrayal, seclusion, stolen gold, and the discovery of Eppie to employ the transformation of Silas. The protagonist faces challenges that reshape the life he lives in Lantern Yard. The world strips Silas of the knowledge he once knew, and sends him into a new environment where he faces the unknown. The theme quest for self emphasizes the journey Silas Marner takes to find his true soul, and purpose on earth.