Silas Marner Major Themes
Major Themes Class Silas Marner centers around two households, Marner’s cottage by the stone-pits and the Cass manor, the Red House. These two settings represent class extremes, and the people of Raveloe know it. The cottage is the ramshackle abode of the lowliest member of Raveloe society; the manor is a sprawling home filled with gentry and a location for dances. Rather than set an impermeable boundary between these two worlds, Eliot stages many intersections between the two households. Dunstan Cass, who is a member of the moneyed class, enters Marner’s home looking for money. Silas Marner, lowly and miserable, raises a
Squire’s granddaughter as his own child. Godfrey Cass, though he owns Marner’s cottage at the end of the novel, is actually in the weaver’s debt. These are just a few instances of the permeability of class boundaries in the novel. In Raveloe, strict boundaries of class do not necessarily lead to greater happiness among the higher classes. Indeed, those with money-or those who are supposed to have money-tend to be the most harried and corrupt characters, such as Dunstan, Godfrey, and even Silas before Eppie. The person most oppressed by circumstances in Silas Marner is perhaps Godfrey Cass, who finds himself at the ercy of a lower-class wife, who fails to have children of his own, and who ends up envying the bond of a lowly weaver and his daughter. Silas Marner and Eppie, on the other hand, though they do not have status or wealth, have power over the Casses and seem to enjoy unmitigated happiness. The Rainbow tavern and the church in Raveloe also serve as places where class differences are evident. The Rainbow becomes quite a different place when the “gentles” are having a dance; during these times (in Chapter Six, for instance), the lesser villagers, like Mr. Macey, reign over the Rainbow, telling stories all the while about the anded members of society. At the church, the important members of society sit in assigned seats at the front of the church while the rest of the villagers sit behind them and watch. In both these places, although everyone recognizes the status difference between the common villagers and the gentry, this difference does not seem to be a problem in Raveloe. The lower classes have not been fed the broth of revolt; they seem quite content. Meanwhile, the upper classes are not oppressive or cruel slave drivers like their factory- owning counterparts. In fact, the gentry rely upon the villagers to sincerely appreciate their mportance and value in the town. It is Mr. Macey, not Mr. Lammeter, who celebrates the history of the Warrens. And without the respectful, watching eyes of the villagers, the front-row seats in church would have less dignity. Thus, Silas Marner tends to represent class differences with historical accuracy. Eliot seems drawn to this pre-industrial era, when there was an easygoing class hierarchy in country towns. Compare the relatively class- indifferent respect that is shown in Raveloe to the horrible factory in the manufacturing town that Marner and Eppie visit in Chapter Twenty-One. The industrial world treats the lower classes as inhuman ogs in the factory wheels. In Raveloe’s trade-based society, meanwhile, each villager can play an important role in the success of the society. That is, the weaver is respected to some degree by the Squire if he weaves his linens well. Even so, one might reasonably argue that Eliot’s idyllic depiction of happy peasants romanticizes the difficulties of the class differences in nineteenth-century England. Myth and Folklore Many critics of the novel fault its unrealistic situations and conclusions. They point out that Marner’s conversion from a miserable old misanthrope to a loving father happens too quickly, and they argue that the end of the ovel has too much poetic justice, with every character getting a just reward. These critics hold the novel to a standard of realism that others see as inappropriate to Eliot’s goals in Silas Marner . Defenders of the novel argue that is is more like a fable, operating through the moral logic of a fairy tale in order to accomplish goals beyond merely representing reality. In fables, ballads, myths and fairy tales, sudden transformations, inexplicable coincidences and other such unrealistic plot devices are part of the magic. Novels need not read like documentaries. Silas Marner is a work of fantasy as much as it represents a deeper eality. While the plot reflects the novel’s mythic character, there is also explicit reference to myth and legend throughout the novel. Weaving itself is a classic emblem of myths across cultures (see the Mythology and Weaving web site). Certainly Eliot was well aware of this emblem when she chose her protagonist and the activity of weaving. The story also has a strong Biblical undercurrent, recalling especially the stories of Job, King David, the expulsion from Eden, and Cain and Abel. And the author of Silas Marner expects readers to understand its many references to ancient mythology including the Fates and Arachne (a weaver ransformed into a spider–note the profusion of insect imagery describing Marner). The hearth, where Eppie is suddenly found, is an especially powerful image in Roman myth. Myth and superstition are active patterns in the village. Mr. Macey tells ghost stories about the Warrens and predicts the future. The villagers look with curiosity on wanderers such as Marner, perceiving that such persons belong to a separate, magical race with powers to heal or harm. These patterns contribute to the folkloric character of the work. Even while Silas Marner satirizes the superstitions of the villagers and offers a fairly realistic explanation or every “miracle” in it, the novel engages the mysteries of fate and love that characterize legendary literature. Memory George Eliot and William Wordsworth have a special affinity. In Silas Marner , more perhaps than in any of her other works, this affinity provides the root of the novel. Eliot even facetiously wrote, in a letter to her publisher, that she “should not have believed that any one would have been interested in [the novel] but myself (since William Wordsworth is dead). ” Eliot uses poetry from Wordsworth as her epigraph, she quotes and echoes his language throughout the work, and she centers the redemption of her rotagonist on one of Wordsworth’s favorite themes: memory. For Eliot and for Wordsworth, memory is not simply about “remembering” in the everyday sense; it is about the profound experience of owning one’s own history, of embodying one’s past. For example, in Silas Marner’s redemption after finding Eppie, the first thing he thinks about is his long-lost baby sister, someone he has not thought about for at least fifteen years. In fact, Eppie’s name was also his mother’s name and his sister’s name. Eppie does not merely allow Marner to move forward out of the meaningless cycle of weaving and mourning in which he is trapped at the time of er arrival, but she also allows Marner to recover elements of his own past. Many other motives are connected with memory. Marner’s herb gathering, for instance, is something he learned from his mother, which he had forgotten until Eppie arrived. His healing process requires backward reaches into the positive, meaningful elements of his past. In the presence of Eppie, Marner’s memory propels him to a richer future. George Eliot’s own memory contributed to key elements of the novel. In a letter, Eliot writes that the novel unfolded “from the merest millet-seed of thought. ” This little seed was her recollection f a stooped, old weaver walking along in the Midlands whom she happened to see one day long before she began the work. Eliot’s enrichment of this scrap of her memory is much like the process of remembering in the novel. From a remembered gesture-such as gathering herbs with one’s mother- one can unfold an entire horizon of value pertinent to the present. Memory, for both Eliot and her characters, is active and creative, more than a passive “storehouse” of knowledge and experience. In remembering we deepen our present life. One way to create the new is to refashion and reinterpret what we have recovered from old times and old meanings.