by George Eliot
Analysis: Plot Analysis
Most good stories start with a fundamental list of ingredients: the initial situation, conflict, complication, climax, suspense, denouement, and conclusion. Great writers sometimes shake up the recipe and add some spice.
Betrayed, Disgraced, Erased
It's easy to miss, but Silas Marner is actually a multi-plot novel. Multi-plot novels are something of a George Eliot-special, most famously Daniel Deronda, in which the protagonists from the novel's two plots hardly meet at all. Raveloe's tight-knit community means that Godfrey's and Silas's plots are a little closer together, but they're still separate. When the novel opens, Silas and Godfrey, in separate chapters, are each confronting a sticky situation: Silas has been kicked out of his community and relocated to Raveloe; and Godfrey's degenerate brother Dunstan has somehow tricked him into marrying the town druggie.
All By Myself
Silas is a lonely dude. He grew up with a supportive, loving community of like-minded believers, and he's now in a situation so foreign that he doesn't even recognize the villager's religion as Christian. He copes by working like a maniac and hoarding his money with the single-mindedness of a zombie horde pursuing the human race's lone survivor. Only problem is that he is—like that zombie horde—starting to lose his humanity.
Godfrey, meanwhile, continues to be a spineless weakling.
They Stole Me Lucky Charms
Silas is snapped out of his rut when Dunstan steals his money; except the theft only gets him in an even deeper funk. Godfrey is doubly upset about his marriage because he wants to marry Nancy, who is just the kind of girl you want to bring home to mom—or in this case, your cranky, alcoholic dad.
Little Orphan Eppie
Eppie brings Silas together with his community, and she also brings the novel together by uniting Godfrey's story with Silas's story. Only, when she comes into Silas's house, the two stories seem to diverge completely. Godfrey sees her and refuses to admit that she's his; Silas takes her in, planting the first seeds of his redemption by integrating into the community.
Cue the inspiring montage.
After a brief rundown of Eppie's early years and some of Silas's comical attempts at childrearing—for example, tying Eppie to his loom and then leaving scissors around—the narrative skips sixteen years. When Part 2 opens, toddler Eppie is all grown up and Silas is a beloved fixture of the community.
Eppie, I am Your Father
Oh, hey, Godfrey, were you looking for your brother at any point during those sixteen years? He's been lying dead at the bottom of the quarry just a few yards from Silas's door. And he stole Silas's money. And now it looks like all the secrets are coming out. Godfrey confesses to Nancy and they try to do their duty to Eppie by taking her away from the only home she's ever known. Shockingly, she refuses, and Godfrey doesn't get his happy ending.
Happily Ever After
Luckily, everyone else does. Silas Marner ends on a bright note: "What a pretty home our is!," Eppie says. "I think nobody could be happier than we are" (2.21.17). It's a nice thought, and Silas's plot ends happily. If that ending leaves you with a sugar high, remember this: Eliot has been hinting all along that this happy home and pretty cottage are doomed by the force of history, the industrialization signaled by the booming manufacturing city that Silas and Eppie visit right before the end.