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Bring on the tough stuff - there’s not just one right answer.
Church, chapel, and ghost: Silas Marner brings more than one belief system, and even individual versions of belief. What role does religion play in the novel? What does Eliot seem to be saying about religion?
The Casses, the Winthrops, the Marners: Eliot explores several different families over the course of the novel. What are the differences between the happy and unhappy families? What makes a happy family—and what makes a family?
Many of the characters, especially the female ones, have strong opinions about male and female labor. What is Eliot saying about the relationships between men and women? What influence does the agricultural setting have?
When Silas's money is stolen, some of the villagers think that a supernatural force took part. What's the role of the supernatural in Silas Marner, and what kind of relationship does it have to the Christianity that the villagers nominally follow?
Most of the novel focuses on the struggles of insignificant individuals—poor weavers, country squires, parish clerks. Yet Eliot occasionally lets slip something bigger about history. What's the relationship between the individual and the larger stage of history in Silas Marner? What's the significance of Eliot's setting the novel fifty-odd years in the past?
Eliot carefully represents the villagers' dialect, drawing attention to shifts in pronunciation and education that have changed the way people speak over the past decades; for example, the narrator calls attention to Nancy's language and says that "There is hardly a servant-maid in these days who is not better informed than Miss Nancy" (1.11.4). What do moments like this suggest about Eliot's audience? For whom is she writing? How would you characterize her intended or implied readers?
The tone and style of Silas Marner are a tricky to sort out. Eliot veers from funny and sharp to sentimental and philosophical. Given that Godfrey and Silas inhabit almost separate narratives, would it be fair to say that Silas Marner wants to be two different books? If not, how might you account for the differences in style, tone, and plot?
Symbols and allegory play an important role in the novel, but realistic detail and representation do as well. To what extent is Eliot telling a moralistic fable, and to what extent is she providing a slice-of-life picture of a specific village at a specific time? How do the two approaches to novel-writing interact in Silas Marner? What does the narrator do to bring them together?