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Silas Marner: Summary and Themes

By Edited Jul 25, 2016 0 0

Any human condition can be dramatically changed by the themes of chance, obsession, and luck as displayed through Silas Marner’s ultimate conquering of life and realization of the true meaning of love.

            Silas Marner can be paid a high tribute of success in which that it is a remarkable work as anything that has occurred in the history of English literature in this century.  Many critics would agree that Silas Marner is one of George Eliot’s greatest works and should be defined only as excellence.  The Saturday View says that, “there is, again, nothing painful in Silas Marner, and that this new volume of George Eliot’s work has as much freshness, novelty, and humour as ever.” (“Reviews” 99)

            Silas Marner has traditionally been read for mostly its fairytale qualities.  These fairytale qualities tend to emphasize the cataleptic spells that Silas goes through, his obsession and stockpile of gold, and the orphan child Eppie, who arrives miraculously to eventually save him at his hearth. From a fairytale perspective, the novel’s most astonishing aspects are the dramatic decline and successive rejuvenation of Silas through parenting (“Hoarding”). But this is not meant to complicate it or denounce the depth of Silas Marner. In her article, Joyce Hart states; “There are many fairytale elements in the novel, but this is no reason to condemn it as lacking depth.  Eliot uses the familiar story frame of fortuitous coincidence, clear-cut relationships between good and evil, as well as the novel’s happy ending to create her simple form (178).” David R. Carrol also says; “The magical and fairytale elements of the story have been accepted as the substance to Silas Marner (148). This shows that Eliot did not mean to tell a complicated story, but rather just to get her point of view across.  Her themes are her message, and her messages can be most evidently viewed through an assessment of the contrasting characters of Silas Marner and Godfrey Cass.

            Silas Marner was to George Eliot, a way to get her messages and points in the open. The novel was carefully built around a structure of ideas which were of the utmost concern to George Eliot, and it forms a vital link in the logic of her development.  In order to look deeper into the novel and George Eliot’s message, the reader must assess the foremost theme in Silas Marner which is that of religion or spirituality.

            Silas Marner’s spirituality is first awakened at the Lantern Yard, where as a young man in the 1780’s, he is a member of a Dissenting Protestant sect.  Those who rejected the doctrines and authority of the Church of England in the nineteenth century were known as dissenters.  Once dismissed from the Lantern Yard, Silas must make the trek to Raveloe.  “It is a long journey, in more ways than one, from Lantern Yard to Raveloe, from dissenting chapel to village church (Aubrey).” 

            The religion in Raveloe shows the importance of community, where as Lantern Yard shows the importance of religious doctrine.  But Raveloe has a type of pagan element that alters its Christianity. In Raveloe, the residents are just as preoccupied with the supernatural as the Lantern Yard is. “The pagan Raveloe religion comes closer than the Lantern Yard faith to reflecting the world of Silas Marner” (Breaks).  The Raveloe religion allows for the unjust and the unknown.  It confesses ignorance rather than professing creeds and it keeps a vigilant eye out for evils, but it trusts blindly but wisely in God’s goodness.  The trust in a loving God fosters love of one’s fellows.  In a critical essay “The Breaks in Silas Marner” this point is also displayed and also as with its metaphysical beliefs, it occurs in Raveloe’s social interactions.  “Raveloe’s social interactions differ in kind as well as in degree from those of Lantern Yard.  The differences account for Raveloe’s greater well-being.  There are rewards of their ‘pure, natural human relations.’” There two most important “pure, natural human relations” are reflexive gratification and greater security.  This reflexive blessing accrues to Silas in nurturing Eppie.  Through helping Eppie, by taking her in, caring for her and giving her a home, Silas helps himself.  His lust for acquiring money has vanished, and he can give his love to something that will return it to him.  “Human relations” are their own fulfilling reward. (Breaks)

            The greater security is shown by neighborliness is protective.  A reflection of the mentality of the community is that they feel threatened from without.  When Silas is on the outskirts of Raveloe, he does not attempt a social life and the villagers don’t attempt one with him.  The clan must be protected at the cost of potential injustice to strangers.  But once you are assimilated into their society, you will be under their protection as well.  “Its very closeness discourages predatory acts by its members” (Breaks).  This is not true of the Lantern Yard as many critics would agree that William Dane did not show his friend Silas Marner this courtesy of protecting him.

            The theme of spiritualism works its way into the novel many times.  It occurs unexpectedly as the critic Robert Speaight would say.  Silas Marner is materially and spiritually in poverty until he welcomes the redemptive influence of Eppie. “ Marner is certainly presented to us as a wronged man, but there is a sin in his embitterment.  Of this embitterment, this sterile turning in upon himself, the hoarded gold is the expression; and when he loses it, again unjustly he loses a prop which has really been an obstacle” (Speaight 181).  Speaight is right in saying that Marner’s love for gold is an obstacle.  It does not love him back as he loves it, and it helps him in no way.  It blocks him from becoming socially active, religious, and loved.  But once this is stolen away from him, he is presented a crutch.  This crutch is Eppie to help him become an active member of the Raveloe society.

            The redemptive theme of Silas Marner is a redemptive message for George Eliot herself.  There are many similarities between her and Silas Marner.  As Silas was a devote member of the Lantern Yard, she was an extremely devout evangical Christian. Both of their religions were questioned, and they both fell away.  But as they were focused on something else, their religion returned to them through redemption. 

            Marner’s redemption was neither automatic nor immediate.  His main redemption came solely through Eppie’s appearance.  Once he was able to leave behind his false adoration for gold, he was able to fully love the way he was supposed to.  And he was able to receive back this love that made him feel more than emptiness.  Critics such as Speaight agree in saying that, “It was only when his love was perfected that the gold was given back to him.  He sensed it with that clear moral intuition which belongs to all of Geoge Eliot’s unsophisticated characters” (181).

            Lastly, we must come to the comparison and contrast of the two main characters. Silas Marner and Godfrey Cass.  Although Silas Marner is the main character, as the title indicates, Silas would not have been as fully developed if Eliot had not included Godfrey Cass.  Eliot compares and contrasts their two lives long before their actual meeting.  Silas is first introduced as an isolated, strange looking man.  He only seeks to work and earn money.  In contrast, Godfrey is the son of the greatest man in Raveloe, but he has not been able to establish any worth other than inheritance. (Hart 178)

            Here is where the comparison begins.  Silas works hard but is criticized for not socializing while Godfrey is deemed a fine, open faced, good natured man, but he is lazy.  This is the difference between the working class and the wealthy landowners.  There are positives and negatives for both.  “Each group has its qualities; each has its weaknesses (Hart).”

            Both of these men have adversaries that help the dual theme in Silas Marner of honesty and deception.  Silas is an honest man, yet he is betrayed many times by his friends and having his money stolen from him. This leads Silas to mistrust everyone. Godfrey’s adversary, Dustan, causes Godfrey a lot of distress.  The circumstances are complicated between these brothers, but Godfrey himself is dishonest and therefore Silas is the better man. (Hart)  This explains why, in the end, all of Godfrey’s good luck, such as marrying Nancy, turns to bad luck and all of Silas’ bad luck, such as hoarding gold, turns into good luck and helps him find his true realization of what love is through Eppie.

            It is through these themes that Silas Marner experiences his life and his journey through the good and the bad.  Silas Marner is very well rounded and balanced in displaying themes and redemption of the characters (Wiesenfarth).  This “fairytale” novel has greatly depicted realism and the themes can be applied to more than just this novel.  It is shown through characters such as Silas Marner that any human condition can be dramatically changed by the themes of chance, obsession, and luck as displayed through his ultimate conquer on life and realization of the true meaning of love.

 

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