Silas Marner by George Eliot

Setting


The story is set in the small town of Raveloe, England in the early nineteenth century.

Plot


SilasMarner.jpg Part I
Silas Marner is a lonely old man who is made to leave his beloved town of Lantern Yard to arrive at the critical stares from the town of Raveloe. Marner lives his lonely days as a weaver, who by night brings out his hidden gold to count it and obsess over it. While in this town, Marner acquires the reputation of being an old, grumpy man. He lives his days weaving for the wealthy woman, eating, counting his precious money, and warding off curious stares of by-passers. New characters, members of the Cass family, are introduced to the reader. Squire Cass, a semi-wealthy, lazy man, and his sons, Godfrey and Dunstan, have their own issues to resolve. Godfrey, the oldest son, has to handle his younger brother, Dunstan, and his devious tricks. A few years prior, Dunstan tricked Godfrey into marrying a poor woman with whom no connection was favorable. Godfrey has no intentions of staying with this woman because he has feelings for another woman, Nancy Lammeter, but he cannot pursue these feelings because of his wife. Godfrey also lacks the courage and backbone to stand up to his brother and admit his faults to his father. This fault leads to Dunstan in need of some money. Dunstan stumbles upon Marner’s cottage, steals his gold, and runs away. When Marner returns to find his gold gone, he reports it to the assembly of people at the Rainbow Tavern. A search is set to find Marner’s money, though most believe it is a hopeless case. Marner now spends the majority of his time mourning for his lost treasure. It is at this time that Godfrey’s wife comes to the town of Raveloe with her child, intending to ruin all happiness for Godfrey. However, she falls in the snow and freezes to death while her small daughter toddles off to the warmth of Marner’s fire. When Marner sees the needy child he is reminded of his young sister and the tender care he felt for her. The woman is found dead, to Godfrey’s relief, and the child is allowed to stay with Marner, giving no one the opportunity to find out that Godfrey is her true father. All Godfrey sees in this situation is an opportunity to finally marry the woman he loves while secretly trying to provide for his daughter. As Marner cares for this child, he finds himself opening up to his neighbors and the world around him. One such neighbor is Dolly Winthrop, who helps with the motherly role concerning Eppie, the orphaned child in Marner’s care.
Part II
By the time Eppie has become a young, radiant, eighteen year old, Silas has opened up considerably by attending town functions and Godfrey has finally married Nancy Lammeter, leaving his long-gone brother far from his thoughts. However, Dunstan was not so far when his body was found drowned in the Stone Pits with Marner’s money. When Godfrey sees this, he feels compelled to tell Nancy everything about his first marriage and his daughter who is currently in Marner’s care. Both Godfrey and Nancy agree that it would be best to fulfill their parental duty to Eppie and share their wealth and fortunes with her. However, she refuses by saying she could never leave the only father she knows and loves to go live with strangers, and Marner refuses by saying that if Godfrey wanted Eppie he should have claimed her when she was first found, instead of passing up this wonderful blessing. Godfrey and Nancy return to their big house, defeated and childless. The next morning Marner introduces the idea of returning to his old town and visiting his friends. The journey is made, but to Marner’s disappointment, the whole town has changed, leaving Raveloe as the only home he will know. This story concludes with Eppie’s marriage to Aaron Winthrop, the son of Dolly Winthrop, and their living together with Marner in the Stone Pits.







Themes


Here are some themes that can be found in Silas Marner.

Man vs. Community/Society
The story of Silas Marner can be seen as the interactions between Marner and his beloved town of Lantern Yard compared to his excluded living in Raveloe. Marner must endure the changes of being accepted by his community and an active member of the society to being an outcast in both the community and society.

Character Determines Destiny
Another theme prevalent in Silas Marner is that what a person does determines what they will become or what their outcome will be. This is shown in the event of Godfrey refusing Eppie, marrying Nancy, and ending up childless. This is also shown in Marner doing the right thing by taking Eppie and ending up one of the most respected citizens of Raveloe.






Characters


Silas Marner is the main character of the novel. He is an older man who left his lovely home of Lantern Yard because his friend framed him for stealing money from a wealthy man. Marner was forced to move to the small town of Raveloe where he received curious stares from the townspeople while he works as a weaver, toiling over his loom the entire day. Marner has a peculiar physical appearance of brown eyes that seem to stare off into the distance because he has a visual problem and slumped, hunched shoulders. Through his labors, Marner accumulated a great deal of money which he takes out and counts every night, becoming more and more focused and dependant on it. When his money is tragically stolen on day, Marner emotionally falls apart. As Marner is in this state, a young girl comes to him and feelings of love and tenderness well up from inside him. He is changed for the better by allowing Eppie, the young child, to fill his heart will love and happiness instead of greed and money.

Godfrey Cass is the oldest son of a wealthy Squire. He is plagued with doubts and insecurities from his past. He only looks out for himself and his best interest because he does not claim Eppie when she was abandoned, but leaves her to marry Nancy.

Dustan Cass is the second son of a wealthy Squire with a tricky, underhanded character. He is the source of trouble for both Marner and Godfrey. Dustan steals Marner’s money and tricks Godfrey into the marriage with Eppie’s mother. His deeds catch up to him in the event of his death.

Dolly Winthrop is the sweet, helpful town lady who offers her soothing presence to those who have troubles. She is first visits Marner when he is mourning the loss of his gold. Then later helps him in the care of young Eppie. Dolly eventually earns enough of Marner’s trust to allow him to open up and talk about his old town and beliefs.

Eppie is the kind, gentle young girl who Marner finds and raises. She changes his life by bringing a new joy of love. She paves the way for Marner to open up to his community and be accepted once again in a town.

Nancy Lammeter is a proper lady of the time, full of youth, beauty and kindness. She is attracted to Godfrey but tires to ignore him because he as mood swings. She is eventually won over and marries him. However, to his dismay, she strongly believes in the fates, so when her baby dies she refuses to have any children on the idea that fate has said she is not meant for children.



Symbols


There are a few symbols that can be found in reading Silas Marner. Below are a few symbols and their meanings.
Marner_loom.jpg
a weaver's loom


Silas Marner's loom symbolizes many things in the novel. First, it is a machine in a time when many activities were still done by hand. Therefore, it is a strange object feared by the people of Raveloe just as Marner is feared because he is different. The loom is the main contributing factor to Marner's deformed appearance. He must bend over the loom and stress his eyes to work with the thread. Also, the loom is constantly in motion and in use, however, it is completely stationary. Like Marner, who works all day, he receives no profit because his work does not help him advance in his world. The loom symbolizes the unchanging patters of his life.

The hearth is a symbol of home, comfort, and family. When Eppie wonders into Marner's house, she is drawn by the bright light that is shinning from his fire. The first time she is seen, she is sitting on Marner's hearth. When Godfrey tells of his dreams of the children he will one day have, he pictures them sitting around the hearth with him. Also, in the Rainbow Tavern, the hearth is the most comfortable place so the importance of the individual is measured by how close they get to being comfortable, sitting at the hearth by the fire.


Vocabulary


The following are vocabulary words that may be hard for the reader to understand. The words will be defined and used in context to ensure maximum recolection of the words.
  1. Beset - to attack at all sides; to surround
    1. "Silas now found himself and his cottage suddenly beset by mothers who wanted him to charm away the whoopin-cough, or bring back the milk, and by men who wanted stuff against the rheumatics or the knots in the hands;..." page 21
  2. Vacillation - a state on indecision or irresolution; unsteady movement
    1. "From the near vision of that certainty he fell back on suspense and vacillation with a sense of repose." page 32
  3. Meagre - deficient in quality; lacking fullness or richnes
    1. "Anyone who had looked at him as the red light shone upon his pale face, strange straining eyes, and meagre form would perhaps have understood the mixture of contemptuous pity, dread, and suspicion with which he was regarded by his neighbours in Raveloe." page 47
  4. Conviviality - friendly, agreeable; fond of feasting, drinking
    1. "He lifted the latch, and turned into the bright bar or kitchen on the right hand, where the less lofty customers of the house were in the habit of assembling, the parlour on the left being reserved for the more select societies in which Squire Cass frequently enjoyed the double pleasre of the conviviality and condescension." page 50
  5. Intimated - to indicate or make known indirectly; hint; suggest
    1. "A small minority shook their heads, and intimated their opinions that it was not a robbery to have much light thrown on it by tinder-boxes, that Master Marner's tale had a queer look with it, and that such things had been known as a man's doing himself a mischief, and then setting the justice to look for the doer." page 67
  6. Impious - not pious or religious; lacking reverence for God
    1. "Mr. Macey, though he joined in the defence of Marner against all suspicions of deceit, also pooh-poohed the tinder-box; indeed, repudiated it as rather impious suggestion, tending to imply that everything must be done by human hands, and that there was no power which could make away with the guineas without moving the bricks." page 68
  7. Avowal - an open statement of affirmation; frank acknowledgment or admission
    1. "Through the remainder of this day Godfrey, with only occasional fluctuations, kept his will bent in the direction of a complete avowal to his father, and he withheld the story of Wildfire's loss till the next morning, that it might serve him as an introduction to heavier matter." page 73
  8. Slovenly - untidy or unclean in appearance or habits
    1. "His person showed marks of habitual neglect, his dress was slovenly; and yet there was something in the presence of the old Squire distinguishable from that of the ordinary farmers in the parish, who were perhaps every whit as refined as he, but, having sloughed their way through life with a consciousness of being in the vicinity of their “betters,” wanted that self-possession and authoritativeness of voice and carriage which belonged to a man who thought of superiors as remote existences with whom he had personally little more to do than with America or the stars." page 76
  9. Filial - of, pertaining to, or befitting a son or daughter; noting or having the relation of a child to a parent
    1. “The Squire has laid down his knife and fork, and was staring at his son in amazement, not being sufficiently quick of brain to form a probable guess as to what could have caused so strange an inversion of the paternal and filial relations as this proposition of his son to pay him a hundred pounds.” page 78
  10. Prevarication - to speak falsely or misleadingly; deliberately create an incorrect impression; lie
    1. “Godfery left the room, hardly knowing whether he were more relieved by the sense that the interview was ended without having made any change in his position, or more uneasy that he had entangled himself still further in prevarication and deceit.” page 82
  11. Bereavement - to deprive and make desolate; to deprive ruthlessly or by force
    1. “But while poor Silas’s loss served thus to brush the snow current of Raveloe conversation, Silas himself was feeling the withering desolation of that bereavement about which his neighbors were arguing at their ease.” page 84
  12. Scrupulous - having or showing a strict regard for what one considers right; minutely careful, precise
    1. “She was in all respects a woman of scrupulous conscience, so eager for duties that life seemed to offer them too scantily unless she rose at half-past four, though this threw a scarcity of work over the more advanced house of the morning, which it was a constant problem with her to remove.” page 89
  13. Irascibility - easily provoked to anger; very irritable
    1. “Whereupon cards followed, with Aunt Kimble’s annual failure to follow suit, and Uncle Kimble’s irascibility concerning the old trick which was rarely explicable to him, when it was not on his side, without a general visitation of ricks to see that they were formed on sound principles: the whole being accompanied by a strong steaming odour of spirits-and-water.” page 96
  14. Vindictiveness - disposed or inclined to revenge; vengeful
    1. “The belief that he repented his marriage, and suffered from it, only aggravated her vindictivness.” page 118
  15. Stupefied - to put into a state of little or no sensibility; numb the faculties; to stun
    1. “As the child’s mind was growing into knowledge, his mind was growing into memory: as her life unfolded, his soul, long stupefied in a cold narrow prison, was unfolding too, and trembling gradually into full consciousness.” page 140
  16. Desisting - to cease doing something; forbear
  17. Remonstrate - to say or plead in protest, objection, or disapproval
  18. Cogent - convincing or believable by virtue or forcible, clear, or incisive presentation; to the point; relevant
    1. “…Snap occasionally desisting in order to remonstrate with the cat by a cogent worrying growl on the greediness and futility of her conduct; till Eppie relented, caressed both, and divided the morsel between them.” page 157
  19. Acquiescence - the act or condition of giving tacit assent; agreement or consent by silence or without objection; compliance
    1. “Silas did not highly enjoy smoking, and often wondered how his neighbours could be so fond of it; but a humble sort of acquiescence in what was held to be good had become a strong habit of that new self which had been developed in him since he had found Eppie on his hearth…” page 157
  20. Appropriate - to set apart, authorize, or legislate for some specific purpose or use; to take to or for oneself
    1. “By seeking what was needful for Eppie, by sharing the effect that everything produced on her, he had himself come to appropriate the forms of customs and belief which were the mould of Raveloe life…” page 157
  21. Compunction - a feeling of uneasiness or anxiety of the conscience caused by regret for doing wrong or causing pain; remorse
    1. “‘And so it would,’ said Dolly, almost with compunction; ‘them things are easier said nor done; and I’m partly ashamed o’ talking.’” Page 160
  22. Reticence - disposed to be silent or not to speak freely; reserved
    1. “For it would have been impossible for him to hide from Eppie the she was not is own child: even if the most delicate reticence of the point could have been expected from Raveloe gossips in her presence…”
  23. Unvitiated - not vitiated; pure; not impaired or weakened
    1. “…so that it is not surprising if, in other things besides her delicate prettiness, she was not quite a common village maiden, but had a touch of refinement and fervour which come from no other teaching than that of tenderly nurtured unvitiated feeling.” page 161
  24. Transient - not lasting, enduring, or permanent; lasting only a short time
    1. “Anyone who has watched such moments in other men remembers the brightness of the eyes and the strange definiteness that comes over coarse features from threat transient influence.” page 181
  25. Rectitude - rightness of principle or conduct; moral virtue; correctness
    1. “Nancy was silent: her spirit of rectitude would not let her try to soften the edge of what she felt to be a just compunction.” page 193
  26. Begrimed - to make grimy; to smear or soil with dirt
    1. “Here and there a sallow, begrimed face looked out from a gloomy doorway at the strangers, and increased Eppie’s uneasiness, so that it was a longed-for relief when they issued from the alleys into Shoe Lane, where there was a broader strip of sky.” page 196


About the Author


Eliot_painting.jpg
A painting of George Eliot
The author of Silas Marner is George Eliot. However, her real name is Mary Ann Evans; though' she would later use the name Marian. Evan's childhood in the Midlands of England consisted of playing with her older brother when she was not away at boarding school consentrating on her studies. At the age of nine, Evans developed a friendship with the head governess of her school who influenced her to become a devout Christian. When Evans was sixteen years old, she left school to keep house for her father after her mother died. While at home, Evans tried to continue her studies with the aid of tutors, but eventually taught herself. Though both her siblings got married, Evans stayed with her father to care for him. In 1841 they moved to Coventry where she met two new friends, Charles and Cara Bray, free and independant thinkers like Evans. Upon her father's death 1849, Evans was free to tour Europe with her friends. Evans, now known as Marian, went to London, in 1851, to assist the editor of the liberal intellectual magazine Westminsher Review. For two years Evans was surounded by great inellectual thinkers as she reveiw books, wrote essays, and ran the magazine. Through the magazine, Evans met and fell in love with jounalist and novelist George Lewes. In 1854, Evans and Lewes ran away to Germany and lived as man and wife until his death in 1878. Before his
Eliot_Statue.jpg
A statue of George Eliot
death, Lewes encouraged Evans to write fictions, so three short pieces where published in the Blackwood's Magazine under the name George Eliot. One year later, Evans got her start when her three pieces were published together as Scenes of Clerical Life. Evans went on to write noves that include Adam Bede (1859), The Mill on the Floss (1860), Silas Marner (1861), Romola (1862-1863), Middlemarch (1871-1872), and Daniel Deronda (1876). Evans died in 1880 of heart failure after an attack of laryngitis.