Study Guide

Silas Marner Quotes

By George Eliot

  • Wealth

    The weaver's hand had known the touch of hard-won money even before the palm had grown to its full breadth; for twenty years, mysterious money had stood to him as the symbol of earthly good, and the immediate object of toil. (1.2.4)

    Money stands for something—but what? It's not an earthly good in and of itself; it stands for an earthly good. The key word here seems to be "mysterious." Money is baffling. It can't be spent, and it doesn't improve Silas's standard of living. Here's Eliot's being all philosophical: money is a symbol of something, and not a thing in itself.

    He spread them out in heaps and bathed his hands in them; then he counted them and set them up in regular piles, and felt their rounded outline between his thumb and fingers, and thought fondly of the guineas that were only half-earned by the work in his loom, as if they had been unborn children—thought of the guineas that were coming slowly through the coming years, through all his life, which spread far away before him, the end quite hidden by countless days of weaving. (1.2.10)

    This image could be funny—a man literally "bathing" in his money, rolling around on a pile of gold coins like a cartoon miser on his pile of $100 bills or a dragon snoozing on a heap of treasure. But Eliot infuses it with pathos. Silas clings to coins because he has nothing else. His community has been snatched away from him, and it will be a long time before he learns to join a new one.

    If she could come to be mistress at the Red House, there would be a fine change, for the Lammeters had been brought up in that way, that they never suffered a pinch of salt to be wasted, and yet everybody in their household had of the best, according to his place. Such a daughter-in-law would be a saving to the old Squire, if she never brought a penny to her fortune, for it was to be feared that, notwithstanding his incomings, there were more holes in his pocket than the one where he put his own hand in. (1.3.3)

    Like readers of Us Weekly speculating on celebrity marriages, the villagers agree that Nancy would be a good wife for Godfrey because she'd bring thrift and frugality to the Red House. Although none of the villagers approach Silas's level of obsession about money, they do think about it a lot.

    And sure enough the wedding turned out all right, on'y poor Mrs Lammeter—that's Miss Osgood as was—died afore the lasses were growed up; but for prosperity and everything respectable, there's no family more looked on. (1.6.40)

    The villagers don't always have their priorities in the right place. Here, there's a mix-up between prosperity and actually "turning out all right." From one perspective, the wedding didn't turn out all right at all. Mrs. Lammeter died early, leaving two young daughters. From another perspective—the one that the villagers adopt—the wedding turned out just fine, because the family is prosperous and, therefore, respectable. Prosperity, or having wealth, is the same as being respectable, and we all know that it gets you out of jail.

    Formerly, his heart had been as a locked casket with its treasure inside; but now the casket was empty, and the lock was broken. (1.10.22)

    This elaborate description of Silas's empty heart after the theft of his gold suggests that wealth got between Silas and his neighbors. Wealth took up the place in his heart that something else could have. This image of a locked heart resonates with some Christian imagery that suggests a Christian's heart must be empty in order to allow Christ to enter. It's also super heavy-handed with the symbolism: along with his metaphorical treasure (his trust) Silas's literal treasure (his gold) has been stolen.

    The heap of gold seemed to glow and get larger beneath his agitated gaze. He leaned forward at last, and stretched forth his hand; but instead of the hard coin with the familiar resisting outline, his fingers encountered soft warm curls. (1.12.8)

    Here, the cold coins that Silas has hoarded magically transform into a little girl. Where's the Disney option? There are a lot of fairytale-like aspects to Silas Marner, and the moment in which Silas finds that his stash has morphed into a real, live human is crucial.

    And [he] had lost his money too, so as he had nothing but what he worked for week by week, and when the weaving was going down too—for there was less and less flax spun—and Master Marner was none so young. (2.16.26)

    This sentence is an example of George Eliot's historical precision. That throw-away line, "there was less and less flax spun," keys into a big historical change: the Industrial Revolution, which is basically outsourcing Silas's job. In the cities, factories are churning out cheap fabric that makes his loom irrelevant.

    For Silas would not consent to have a grate and oven added to his conveniences. (2.16.27)

    Here's another example of how money, for Silas, is a symbol rather than a tool. Even though Godfrey would give him whatever he asked for, Silas is so attached to his things that he doesn't want any improvements. He cooks over a fire and rejects a stove top—this is like you stashing pennies in your piggy bank and hanging on to your old Nokia and refusing to get a smartphone, even if your parents offer it to you.

    It's natural he should be disappointed at not having any children: every man likes to have somebody to work for and lay by for, and he always counted so on making a fuss with 'em when they were little. (2.17.14)

    Nancy excuses Godfrey's disappointment in not having children because, she says, men like to have somebody to accumulate wealth for (to "lay by"). There are some similarities here between Nancy's conception of wealth and Silas's—neither sees it as useful for what it can buy in the present—but the difference is that Silas accumulates wealth simply to have it; Nancy thinks that men like to acquire wealth so they can take care of their children. No word on what women like to do with money.

    "No," said Godfrey, with a keen decisiveness of tone, in contrast with his usually careless and unemphatic speech—"There's debts we can't pay like money debts, by paying extra for the years that have slipped by." (2.20.5)

    This is a key realization for Godfrey's character. At this moment, you might say, he finally grows up—if what it means to be "grown up" is to accept both responsibility and the gratification of fulfilling that responsibility (like seeing a child grow up to love and respect you). Being a big shot isn't enough to make you a man—as we learn from Squire Cass's example.

  • Greed

    Do we not wile away moments of inanity or fatigued waiting by repeating some trivial movement or sound, until the repetition has bred a want, which is incipient habit? That will help us to understand how the love of accumulating money grows an absorbing passion in men whose imaginations, even in the very beginning of their hoard, showed them no purpose beyond it. (1.2.7)

    Here, it's not desire for money (or anything else) that leads us to pursue wealth—it's the other way around. Greed develops when we pursue money, and pretty soon we're hoarding it all over our house and TLC is making a reality show about us.

    In his truthful simple soul, not even the growing greed and worship of gold could beget any vice directly injurious to others. (1.5.3)

    Greed doesn't ruin Silas. He's so good that even growing to love gold doesn't make him a bad person, although it does get in the way of forming normal relationships. Is Eliot suggesting that people's characters are fixed, and that greed in some people is bad but in others is merely a harmless vice? Does it matter whether you're greedy for something harmless (like Beanie Babies) or harmful (like heroin)?

    The money had come to mark off his weaving into periods, and the money not only grew, but it remained with him. He began to think it was conscious of him, as his loom was, and he would on no account have exchanged those coins, which had become his familiars, for other coins with unknown faces. (1.2.7)

    Silas is greedy for company rather than money, only he doesn't seem to know it. The fact that he's so particularly attached to these specific coins suggests that the money doesn't mean anything to him for its purchasing power. What he loves about money is that it doesn't change (like his friends at Lantern-Yard changed on him).

    It was Godfrey's whip, which he had chosen to take without leave because it had a gold handle; of course no one could see, when Dunstan held it, that the name Godfrey Cass was cut in deep letters on that gold handle—they could only see that it was a very handsome whip. (1.4.9)

    Dunstan is a nasty fellow. More than anyone else in the novel, he embodies thoughtless greed. If he wants something, he takes it, whether it's a horse, a whip, or some poor weaver's stash of coins. His greed is entirely selfish, as we see in this example—he holds the whip so no one can see that Godfrey's name is on the handle.

    Dunstan's first act, after a train of thought made rapid by the stimulus of cupidity, was to go up to the bed; but while he did so, his eyes travelled eagerly over the floor, where the bricks, distinct in the fire-light, were discernible under the sprinkling of sand. (1.4.11)

    Dustan's "eager" eyes show how superficial and thoughtless greed can be. It's almost as though his body acts without his mind—his train of thought is quick, suggesting that he's not really thinking it through. Spurred on by "cupidity," or "desire," his eye moves without any real purpose behind it. He's almost like a machine, driven by greed rather than by human emotions.

    The inhabitants of Raveloe were not severely regular in their church-going, and perhaps there was hardly a person in the parish who would not have held that to go to church every Sunday in the calendar would have shown a greedy desire to stand well with Heaven, and get an undue advantage over their neighbours—a wish to be better than the 'common run,' that would have implied a reflection on those who had had godfathers and godmothers as well as themselves, and had an equal right to the burying-service. (1.10.20)

    This passage suggests that greed is antisocial. Wanting to be different in any way from your neighbors is, according to the villagers, being "greedy." In other words, if everyone on your block has a Toyota, you'd better have a Toyota, too, and leave the BMWs to the guys up at the Red House.

    "But she'll be my little un," said Marner, rather hastily. "She'll be nobody else's." (1.15.18)

    Here, Silas shows real greed for the first time, and it's not about gold—not gold coins, anyway. He's greedy for Eppie (but not in a creepy way… we guess).

    Snap on the right hand and Puss on the other put up their paws towards a morsel which she held out of the reach of both—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 them both, and divided the morsel between them. (2.16.28)

    In this funny little image of Eppie playing with her pets, we can see that she's a mediator between Silas and the village. Just as Eppie fixes the greediness of the cat and dog by sharing the little bit of food that she has, she moves between Silas and the other folks. She's like a tasty morsel, bringing peace when she's shared. Okay, maybe it's time to revise the "not creepy" judgment.

    "I like the working-folks, and their victuals, and their ways. And," she ended passionately, while the tears fell, "I'm promised to marry a working-man, as'll live with father, and help me to take care of him." (2.19.54)

    Greed is also the desire to have more than you were born with. Here, we see Eppie's lack of greed. She wants nothing more than to marry someone who will let her look after her father, and she refuses Godfrey and Nancy's offer to improve her life. There's nothing wrong with this, except that it kind of undermines the whole notion of "ambition" or "bettering yourself."

    God gave her to me because you turned your back upon her, and He looks upon her as mine: you've no right to her! When a man turns a blessing from his door, it falls to them as take it in. (2.19.34)

    This may seem like greed—Silas wants to keep Eppie for himself—but he understands it as just a simple law of property. Godfrey tossed Eppie out, or at least failed to take her in, and so Silas gets to keep her. In other words: finders, keepers; losers, weepers.

  • Religion

    Even people whose lives have been made various by learning, sometimes find it hard to keep a fast hold on their habitual views of life, on their faith in the Invisible… when they are suddenly transported to a new land. (1.2.1)

    There's a lot going on in this sentence. First, Eliot seems to be linking religious belief with habit. Religion isn't transportable. If you suddenly leave behind your friends, family, and home, you might find yourself leaving behind your religion, as well. Second, the way to combat that atheism is to be educated, because—it seems—education broadens your world, to allow you to see the similarities between places. In other words, Silas doesn't see Raveloe as part of a larger England. His city and the village he moves to might as well be on different planets. His experience is so narrow that he doesn't understand himself as living in a nation made up of many different types of people and places. Of course, the idea that education can make you more religious is not exactly common—nor is it true to Eliot's experience.

    To people accustomed to reason about the forms in which their religious feeling has incorporated itself, it is difficult to enter into that simple, untaught state of mind in which the form and the feeling have never been severed by an act of reflection. (1.1.18)

    A lot of Eliot's thinking about religion has to do with the relationship between education and belief. She seems to be suggesting that people without much education have a simpler, more natural religious belief system, and that thinking too hard—"reflection"—can make beliefs difficult to hold. But does she really think it's better to be uneducated?

    You may prosper, for all that: there is no just God that governs the earth righteously, but a God of lies[.] (1.1.15)

    Here, Silas bitterly accuses his friend William Dane of betraying him. At this moment, Silas renounces his simple belief system, because he feels that God isn't just. Little does he know that he's going to get his reward at the end of the novel. Is Eliot saying that God really is just? Or is righteousness something that only narrators can do?

    The white-washed walls; the little pews where well-known figures entered with a subdued rustling, and where first one well-known voice and then another, pitched in a peculiar key of petition, uttered phrases at once occult and familiar, like the amulet worn on the heart; the pulpit where the minister delivered unquestioned doctrine, and swayed to and fro, and handled the book in a long-accustomed manner; the very pauses between the couplets of the hymn, as it was given out, and the recurrent swell of voices in song: these things had been the channel of divine influences to Marner—they were the fostering home of his religious emotions—they were Christianity and God's kingdom upon earth. (1.2.1)

    Religion is like brushing your teeth: nothing more than a habit. Silas associates religion not with belief so much as with certain words, phrases, and surroundings. When he leaves those behind, he also leaves behind his beliefs.

    It seemed to him that the Power in which he had vainly trusted among the streets and in the prayer-meetings, was very far away from this land in which he had taken refuge, where men lived in careless abundance, knowing and needing nothing of that trust, which, for him, had been turned to bitterness. (1.2.2)

    This complicated sentence makes location part of religion. Silas's life in the manufacturing city may have been difficult, but he got by with a little help from his friends. Life is easier. The time at which the novel is set was a good one for farmers—prices were high and they had a few years of good harvests—and comfortable people who live in "careless abundance" don't need to turn to God. In other words—think you're not religious? Wait until times get tough.

    The sight of the empty hole made his heart leap violently, but the belief that his gold was gone could not come at once—only terror, and the eager effort to put an end to the terror. He passed his trembling hand all about the hole, trying to think it possible that his eyes had deceived him; then he held the candle in the hole and examined it curiously, trembling more and more. (1.5.5)

    Silas refuses to believe that his gold is gone, just like he refuses to believe that God would have let Dane betray him. He's just as terrified to lose his money as he was to lose God—which doesn't say much for his faith in God.

    The inhabitants of Raveloe were not severely regular in their church-going, and perhaps there was hardly a person in the parish who would not have held that to go to church every Sunday in the calendar would have shown a greedy desire to stand well with Heaven, and get an undue advantage over their neighbours—a wish to be better than the 'common run,' that would have implied a reflection on those who had had godfathers and godmothers as well as themselves, and had an equal right to the burying-service. (1.10.16)

    The villagers of Raveloe don't have to work at religion. There's no fasting or penitence involved, and there doesn't seem to be much prayer, either. Their religion is communal: rather than designed to put an individual right with God, it keeps the community together, more like a social club than a religion. Anglican churches have traditionally focused on the communal aspects of religion—even today, all the different countries that have Anglican churches are said to be part of the "Anglican communion."

    Dolly's exposition of her simple Raveloe theology fell rather unmeaningly on Silas's ears, for there was no word in it that could rouse a memory of what he had known as religion, and his comprehension was quite baffled by the plural pronoun, which was no heresy of Dolly's, but only her way of avoiding a presumptuous familiarity. (1.10.40)

    Dolly's religion is so communal that she even refers to God as "they." She can't think of religion as something between just herself and God, and luckily there are no English teachers around to correct her.

    Those green boughs, the hymn and anthem never heard but at Christmas—even the Athanasian Creed, which was discriminated from the others only as being longer and of exceptional virtue, since it was only read on rare occasions—brought a vague exulting sense, for which the grown men could as little have found words as the children, that something great and mysterious had been done for them in heaven above, and in earth below, which they were appropriating by their presence. (1.10.56)

    Only at Christmas, and probably other major church holidays, do the Raveloe villagers actually seem to feel something like belief—and only then because the celebrations are special. Otherwise, religion is ordinary and everyday, something done because everyone else does it. (Again, like brushing your teeth or saying "bless you" when someone sneezes.)

    For it would not have been possible for the Raveloe mind, without a peculiar revelation, to know that a clergyman should be a pale-faced memento of solemnities, instead of a reasonably faulty man, whose exclusive authority to read prayers and preach, to christen, marry, and bury you, necessarily co-existed with the right to sell you the ground to be buried in, and to take tithe in kind. (1.11.61)

    The Raveloe people expect their priests to be ordinary, too. Unlike angry Calvinist preachers going on and on about sin and salvation, and unlike celibate Catholic priests who keep apart from daily life, Anglican priests are part of the community, people basically like themselves—bad habits, annoying character traits, and all.

    On this occasion Silas, making himself as clean and tidy as he could, appeared for the first time within the church, and shared in the observances held sacred by his neighbours. He was quite unable, by means of anything he heard or saw, to identify the Raveloe religion with his old faith; if he could at any time in his previous life have done so, it must have been by the aid of a strong feeling ready to vibrate with sympathy, rather than by a comparison of phrases and ideas[.] (1.14.33)

    Silas goes to church for the first time after he adopts Eppie, but it doesn't mean anything to him beyond the experience of being with his neighbors. It's so different that it might as well be a mosque or a synagogue; he just likes being with people again.

  • Isolation

    There were the calls of hunger; and Silas, in his solitude, had to provide his own breakfast, dinner, and supper, to fetch his own water from the well, and put his own kettle on the fire; and all these immediate promptings helped, along with the weaving, to reduce his life to the unquestioning activity of a spinning insect. (1.2.3)

    Aside from the association between Silas and spiders—see "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory" for more about this—this quotation suggests that being alone too much can turn you into a man-machine—or something worse. It's basic human nature to be social. Silas is pretty much one bad experience away from sticking letter bombs in the mail.

    Every man's work, pursued steadily, tends in this way to become an end in itself, and so to bridge over the loveless chasm of his life. (1.2.3)

    In Middlemarch, Eliot shows how obsession isolates people. Here, a decade before Middlemarch, she spends a little time thinking about just the same thing. By obsessing over his weaving, Silas manages to isolate himself. Sure, it's partly Raveloe's fault for being a little narrow-minded—but it's also Silas's fault, for not knowing how to find a balance between work and life. How modern.

    Thus it came to pass that his movement of pity towards Sally Oates, which had given him a transient sense of brotherhood, heightened the repulsion between him and his neighbours, and made his isolation more complete. (1.2.6)

    Silas tries to reach out by using his herb-knowledge to help a sick woman, but the villagers misinterpret his skill as magic. When he refuses to sell fake charms, they promptly reject him. Sucks for Silas, but look at it this way: if they'd accepted him at first, he might never have been so lonely and might never have taken in Eppie—so maybe you (or the soul, if we're going with allegory) do need to go through a period of isolation.

    Subtle and varied pains springing from the higher sensibility that accompanies higher culture, are perhaps less pitiable than that dreary absence of impersonal enjoyment and consolation which leaves ruder minds to the perpetual urgent companionship of their own griefs and discontents. (1.3.37)

    What Eliot seems to be saying in this confusing sentence is that poor people are worse off if they're isolated, because they don't have the culture and sensibility to be company for themselves. In other words, Godfrey would be better off than Silas in the same situation. Poor people need community more than the wealthy—just like they seem to need religion more, too. Hm, Eliot's kind of leaning toward the 1% here, isn't she?

    Silas spent his Christmas-day in loneliness, eating his meat in sadness of heart, though the meat had come to him as a neighbourly present. In the morning he looked out on the black frost that seemed to press cruelly on every blade of grass, while the half-icy red pool shivered under the bitter wind; but towards evening the snow began to fall, and curtained from him even that dreary outlook, shutting him close up with his narrow grief. And he sat in his robbed home through the livelong evening, not caring to close his shutters or lock his door, pressing his head between his hands and moaning, till the cold grasped him and told him that his fire was grey. (1.10.54)

    If Silas were in Misers Anonymous, this would be his story of hitting rock-bottom. After all Dolly's kind efforts and the neighbors' gentle attempts to reach out to him, he's still sitting alone on Christmas. To rejoin the world, it'll take a miracle—a miracle in the form of a golden-haired child.

    As the child's mind was growing into knowledge, his mind was growing into memory: as her life unfolded, his soul, long stupified in a cold narrow prison, was unfolding too, and trembling gradually into full consciousness. (1.14.35)

    This sentence pulls out a hammer and hits you over the head to make sure you're paying attention: a child's maturation is similar to Silas's rejoining community. It emphasizes, or insists on, a reading of the novel as an allegory of the soul's growth by making Silas's character growth seem to match Eppie's physical and mental growth.

    He listened docilely, that he might come to understand better what this life was, from which, for fifteen years, he had stood aloof as from a strange thing, wherewith he could have no communion[.] (1.14.48)

    Now that he's responsible for Eppie, Silas meekly follows the directions of the villagers. He's determined to be like everyone else for Eppie's sake. This sentence also emphasizes that Silas is growing up. The word "docile" is strongly associated with childhood, and children are supposed to be "docile," unless you actually want to raise a pack of hellions. The fact that Eliot uses the word to describe Silas suggests that she wants us to think about him like a child learning how to be part of the world.

    And if you could but ha' gone on trustening, Master Marner, you wouldn't ha' run away from your fellow-creaturs and been so lone. (2.16.40)

    Here, Dolly pulls up an armchair and diagnoses Silas's psychological problems: he lacks trust. If he'd trusted just a little more when he first came to the village, he wouldn't have rejected the community. Gee, if only his very best friend and lover hadn't both betrayed him, maybe he'd have had an easier time trusting people.

    The tender and peculiar love with which Silas had reared her in almost inseparable companionship with himself, aided by the seclusion of their dwelling, had preserved her from the lowering influences of the village talk and habits, and had kept her mind in that freshness which is sometimes falsely supposed to be an invariable attribute of rusticity. (2.16.44)

    This sentence stands out because it kind of contradicts what Eliot has spent the last two hundred pages emphasizing. It turns out that Silas isn't totally part of his new community. In fact, he and Eppie still stand a little apart from the village. They are a "secluded," almost isolated, part of the village but not absorbed into it. Is this the model that Eliot is recommending?

    On the fourth day from that time, Silas and Eppie, in their Sunday clothes, with a small bundle tied in a blue linen handkerchief, were making their way through the streets of a great manufacturing town. (2.21.7)

    It's cliché to talk about being isolated in a big city, but that's exactly what's going on here. The city that Silas grew up in has changed so much that he's completely lost. The way of life that Raveloe offers is an idealized dream, but the alternative, the crowded-yet-lonely life of the city, seems almost like a nightmare. What's left for reality?

  • Community

    The long pipes gave a simultaneous movement, like the antennae of startled insects, and every man present, not excepting even the sceptical farrier, had an impression that he saw, not Silas Marner in the flesh, but an apparition[.] (1.7.1)

    This funny image of the smokers at the Rainbow Inn compares the villagers to a colony of insects all moving as one. Eliot, who never met a metaphor she didn't like, does a lot with this one. Insects represent both Silas's isolation and the collectivism of Raveloe.

    This strangely novel situation of opening his trouble to his Raveloe neighbours, of sitting in the warmth of a hearth not his own, and feeling the presence of faces and voices which were his nearest promise of help, had doubtless its influence on Marner, in spite of his passionate preoccupation with his loss. (1.7.19)

    This is the first time Silas has ever gone to his neighbors for anything. Even the simple act of reporting a theft starts to open the community's arms; it doesn't hurt that it's a lot easier to sympathize with someone who's just been robbed than it is to feel sorry for a rich, cranky miser.

    In fact, there was a general feeling in the village, that for the clearing-up of this robbery there must be a great deal done at the Rainbow, and that no man need offer his wife an excuse for going there while it was the scene of severe public duties. (1.8.9)

    The men figure they have to go down to the bar to help Silas solve the robbery. Individual misfortune brings the whole village together—at least, the male portion of it; no word on what the women are doing—and the togetherness happens at the pub. They don't call alcohol a social lubricant for nothing. Communal acts of smoking and drinking together are a kind of communion, just like eating together.

    Neighbours, who had nothing but verbal consolation to give, showed a disposition not only to greet Silas, and discuss his misfortune at some length when they encountered him in the village, but also to take the trouble of calling at his cottage, and getting him to repeat all the details on the very spot[.] (1.10.5)

    It's a lot easier to be nice to someone who's down on his luck. Because Silas never needed anything from his neighbors before, they never approached him. But now the community rallies around him. And, yeah, a little schadenfreude never hurts, either.

    Left groping in darkness, with his prop utterly gone, Silas had inevitably a sense, though a dull and half-despairing one, that if any help came to him it must come from without; and there was a slight stirring of expectation at the sight of his fellow-men, a faint consciousness of dependence on their goodwill. (1.10.22)

    Silas has to be robbed before he can open himself up to receiving the goodwill of his neighbors. More importantly, help has to come from "without." That's a very Calvinist idea: you can't save yourself through good deeds ("works"), because only God can save you through forcible intervention ("grace"). It's also a very communist/socialist idea. Hmm, sounds like someone's been reading Marx.

    But now Silas met with open smiling faces and cheerful questioning, as a person whose satisfactions and difficulties could be understood. Everywhere he must sit a little and talk about the child, and words of interest were always ready for him: "Ah, Master Marner, you'll be lucky if she takes the measles soon and easy!"—or, "Why, there isn't many lone men 'ud ha' been wishing to take up with a little un like that: but I reckon the weaving makes you handier than men as do out-door work—you're partly as handy as a woman, for weaving comes next to spinning." (1.14.48)

    Silas is just a little bit less masculine than his community, because his weaving is "women's work." Little differences like this mean that Silas can't ever be totally a part of Raveloe. Side note: if the Raveloe way of life is going extinct, are all the jobs of the Industrial Revolution somehow women's work?

    There was love between him and the child that blent them into one, and there was love between the child and the world—from men and women with parental looks and tones, to the red lady-birds and the round pebbles. (1.14.48)

    Love is like a magic penny: if you give it away, you end up having more. Because Silas loves Eppie, he ends up loving everyone more. This idealistic vision of community hints at the novel's sentimental, allegorical side.

    She does not like to be blameworthy even in small things: you see how neatly her prayer-book is folded in her spotted handkerchief. (2.16.4)

    Eppie's major concern is to blend into her community, which makes sense for the child of a loner like Silas—kids always rebel. Wanting to be part of a community makes her reject Godfrey and Nancy's offer of adoption. She's belonging to her group, even if they're just poor villagers.

    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. (2.16.30)

    Silas smokes because his neighbors urge him to, even though he doesn't like it very much. Peer pressure: alive and well since the early 1800s. Only, peer pressure here is a force for good (even if smoking turned out to be not all that great for your health).

    How'll she feel just the same for me as she does now, when we eat o' the same bit, and drink o' the same cup, and think o' the same things from one day's end to another? Just the same? that's idle talk. You'd cut us i' two. (2.19.29)

    Proximity here seems to be the main thing that holds a group together. Geography is important to Eliot; she suggests that living near each other is a primary qualification for a community. There's no such thing as an internet community yet—although, in the 1860s when Silas Marner was written, telegraphs had brought the first communication system to England.

  • Tradition

    All cleverness, whether in the rapid use of that difficult instrument the tongue, or in some other art unfamiliar to villagers, was in itself suspicious.

    To the villagers, anything unfamiliar is automatically bad news. They don't like people to be different, and they especially don't like big city folk coming in and stirring up trouble in their town. This is the bad kind of tradition, the kind that lets people excuse racism and sexism.

    Our old-fashioned country life had many different aspects, as all life must have when it is spread over a various surface, and breathed on variously by multitudinous currents, from the winds of heaven to the thoughts of men, which are for ever moving and crossing each other with incalculable results. (1.3.2)

    Don't be fooled into thinking that Silas Marner represents all village life across all of England in all times. Eliot insists that Raveloe's specific traditions and habits are different from those of other villages. She's interested in being particular rather than general. This is Eliot telling us not to take the allegory too literally, although it's sometimes hard to take her seriously about that.

    The lapse of time during which a given event has not happened, is, in this logic of habit, constantly alleged as a reason why the event should never happen, even when the lapse of time is precisely the added condition which makes the event imminent. (1.5.1)

    Habit also makes people complacent. If something hasn't happened for a long time, that's reason enough to think it will never happen. By that logic, traditions that haven't changed can't change.

    I says to myself, "Is't the meanin' or the words as makes folks fast i' wedlock?" For the parson meant right, and the bride and bridegroom meant right. But then, when I come to think on it, meanin' goes but a little way i' most things, for you may mean to stick things together and your glue may be bad, and then where are you? (1.6.38)

    Here, the parish clerk is remembering the Lammeters' wedding, when the priest mixed up the language. He was—and years later, still is—super concerned that the wedding didn't "take" because the words weren't right. What matters, the meaning or the words? The feeling or the form? If it's the words that matter most, as Mr. Macey seems to think, then tradition is more important than what the priest meant to say. Saying the wrong words would make the wedding invalid.

    It was the great dance on New Year's Eve that made the glory of Squire Cass's hospitality, as of his forefathers', time out of mind. This was the occasion when all the society of Raveloe and Tarley, whether old acquaintances separated by long rutty distances, or cooled acquaintances separated by misunderstandings concerning runaway calves, or acquaintances founded on intermittent condescension, counted on meeting and on comporting themselves with mutual appropriateness. (1.10.58)

    The traditional New Year's Eve dance helps keep the community together by reinforcing social bonds among equals—in other words, it's like a yearly conference for, say, dentists to network and schmooze. What's kind of interesting is that Eliot describes the yearly ritual in terms that make it seem as though Raveloe exists outside of history in a kind of time loop: nothing ever happens, and nothing ever changes.

    Miss Nancy had no sooner made her curtsy than an elderly lady came forward, whose full white muslin kerchief, and mob-cap round her curls of smooth grey hair, were in daring contrast with the puffed yellow satins and top-knotted caps of her neighbours. (1.11.5)

    The "puffed yellow satins" and "top-knotted caps" refer to town, as opposed to country, fashions. Eliot seems to be suggesting that country dress, like everything else about the country, is traditional, while innovation and newness comes from the city. But check it out: the kerchief and mob-cap, traditional 18th-century country dress, are "daring." It's cool to be retro.

    Time out of mind the Raveloe doctor had been a Kimble; Kimble was inherently a doctor's name; and it was difficult to contemplate firmly the melancholy fact that the actual Kimble had no son, so that his practice might one day be handed over to a successor, with the incongruous name of Taylor or Johnson. (1.11.35)

    "Time out of mind" appears more than once in Silas Marner. The phrase emphasizes how Raveloe operates in a time-loop, and it also draws attention to the importance of family names. The tradition of having a certain family perform a certain role is more important than the individual who is currently occupying it. By the end of Silas Marner, Eliot has deflated that idea by letting Eppie choose her own family.

    Already Mr Macey and a few other privileged villagers, who were allowed to be spectators on these great occasions, were seated on benches placed for them near the door; and great was the admiration and satisfaction in that quarter when the couples had formed themselves for the dance, and the Squire led off with Mrs Crackenthorp, joining hands with the rector and Mrs Osgood. That was as it should be—that was what everybody had been used to—and the charter of Raveloe seemed to be renewed by the ceremony. (1.11.61)

    Another tradition of the New Year's dance is to allow villagers to watch the wealthier folk cavorting. Forget the rumblings of the 99%: these villagers are not only perfectly content for the rich people to party, they consider it proper and natural. Tradition dictates that everyone has a role to play.

    For Silas would not consent to have a grate and oven added to his conveniences: he loved the old brick hearth as he had loved his brown pot—and was it not there when he had found Eppie? The gods of the hearth exist for us still; and let all new faith be tolerant of that fetishism, lest it bruise its own roots. (2.16.27)

    Silas is so attached to his household objects that he worships a broken pot and refuses to upgrade his appliances. We're just speculating here, but maybe he clings to things because he had to leave all his friends and his childhood home.

    Her code allowed no question that a father by blood must have a claim above that of any foster-father. (2.19.44)

    Nancy believes that Godfrey has a greater claim on Eppie than Silas, even though Silas has been raising her for sixteen years. The claims of blood stem from a much older tradition than the family of choice that Silas and Eppie have created, but the novel doesn't end up supporting them. For all that tradition is so important in Silas Marner, Eliot doesn't seem to think much of it.

  • Change

    At the end of fifteen years the Raveloe men said just the same things about Silas Marner as at the beginning: they did not say them quite so often, but they believed them much more strongly when they did say them. (1.1.4)

    Here's a good example of how Eliot seems to be suggesting that country life is defined by its resistance to change. Instead of changing their opinions over time, the people of Raveloe just believe them even more firmly. By contrast, change defines both urban and modern life.

    But while opinion concerning him had remained nearly stationary, and his daily habits had presented scarcely any visible change, Marner's inward life had been a history and a metamorphosis, as that of every fervid nature must be when it has fled, or been condemned to solitude. (1.1.5)

    Village opinion may not have changed, but Silas sure has. And it's not good. He's gone from a trusting young man into an embittered old miser. But the change isn't visible on the outside (except, we're guessing, that he's gotten a little old and ugly).

    He began to think it was conscious of him, as his loom was, and he would on no account have exchanged those coins, which had become his familiars, for other coins with unknown faces. (1.2.7)

    "Change" and "exchange" are closely related words. The thing about money is that it's supposed to be changeable. That's what's important about moving from a barter system to a cash system—instead of trying to figure out how to get someone to give you a sack of grain for your goat, you can just sell your goat and buy whatever you want. But Silas doesn't see it that way. For him, money can't be changed into goods or even into other coins. So what's the point of working?

    This is the history of Silas Marner until the fifteenth year after he came to Raveloe. The livelong day he sat in his loom, his ear filled with its monotony, his eyes bent close down on the slow growth of sameness in the brownish web, his muscles moving with such even repetition that their pause seemed almost as much a constraint as the holding of his breath. (1.2.10)

    Silas's resistance to change makes him into something less than human. His monotonous life turns him into a spider in the middle of a "brownish web." Is change—like maybe growing up—what makes us human? If the people in Raveloe stick too closely to their traditions, do they also become dehumanized?

    But about the Christmas of that fifteenth year, a second great change came over Marner's life, and his history became blent in a singular manner with the life of his neighbours. (1.2.11)

    In case we haven't figured it out by now, Eliot lays it out: the whole book is structured around two major changes in Silas's life. She's exploring the psychological effects of external changes—in other words, figuring out how the interior changes when the exterior does.

    I'd a baking yisterday, Master Marner, and the lard-cakes turned out better nor common, and I'd ha' asked you to accept some, if you'd thought well. I don't eat such things myself, for a bit o' bread's what I like from one year's end to the other; but men's stomichs are made so comical, they want a change—they do, I know, God help 'em. (1.10.23)

    Dolly's odd little speech here associates men with change and women with stability. Men get restless, she suggests, and need to move about (we know some guys who would agree with that). This attitude jives with stereotypical ideas about Victorian gender roles: women stay at home and fix up the house while men go out and work in the world. But how seriously are we supposed to take Dolly here? After all, the village men are as stuffy and resistant to change as the women—possibly more so.

    "I should be glad to see a good change in anybody, Mr Godfrey," she answered, with the slightest discernible difference of tone, "but it 'ud be better if no change was wanted." (1.12.87)

    Nancy tells Godfrey that she'd be glad if he improved his life but that she'd prefer it if he had been good from the start. This attitude calls up the Biblical parable of the Prodigal Son. In the parable, a man has two sons: one good, one bad. The bad one leaves, gets into trouble, and then finally comes back repentant. The father welcomes him with a feast, and the good son is a little mad—he's never gotten a feast. The father explains that it's good to celebrate when a bad person is redeemed. The parable is supposed to explain why God loves repentant sinners so much. Here, Nancy counters that story by suggesting that she would have preferred the good son. But does Eliot? Silas isn't "bad," exactly, but Silas Marner is definitely a story of redemption.

    Marner took her on his lap, trembling with an emotion mysterious to himself, at something unknown dawning on his life. Thought and feeling were so confused within him, that if he had tried to give them utterance, he could only have said that the child was come instead of the gold—that the gold had turned into the child. (1.14.14)

    You might say that the primary change in Silas Marner is the transformation of Silas's gold into Eppie. That change from one substance to another seems to match up with the Christian miracle of transubstantiation, in which bread is transformed into the body of Christ. Transubstantiation was (and is) a heated issue for Christians—different groups believe different versions of it. For many Protestants, Communion is just a memorial; for Roman Catholics, the miracle of transubstantiation really takes place. What's interesting is that transubstantiation brings the Christian community together in Communion. When Silas's gold transubstantiates, a similar communion takes place.

    "I don't want any change," said Eppie. "I should like to go on a long, long while, just as we are. Only Aaron does want a change; and he made me cry a bit—only a bit—because he said I didn't care for him, for if I cared for him I should want us to be married, as he did." (2.16.17)

    Like Nancy, Eppie is a woman resistant to change. She doesn't want any alteration; she's happy just as she is. It's Aaron who wants to change things by getting married. What's the relationship between change and gender? What is Eliot saying about women and men?

    Silas, bewildered by the changes thirty years had brought over his native place, had stopped several persons in succession to ask them the name of this town, that he might be sure he was not under a mistake about it. (2.21.7)

    In the thirty-one years since Silas left home, his town has become a huge manufacturing city—so big and so different that he's not even sure it's the same place. But is it? If something changes, is it still the same? (That's profound.) Aside from the warnings about industrialization, this passage raises questions about nature and substance. How much can something change before it's different?

  • Home

    The white-washed walls; the little pews where well-known figures entered with a subdued rustling, and where first one well-known voice and then another, pitched in a peculiar key of petition, uttered phrases at once occult and familiar, like the amulet worn on the heart; the pulpit where the minister delivered unquestioned doctrine, and swayed to and fro, and handled the book in a long-accustomed manner; the very pauses between the couplets of the hymn, as it was given out, and the recurrent swell of voices in song: these things had been the channel of divine influences to Marner—they were the fostering home of his religious emotions—they were Christianity and God's kingdom upon earth. (1.2.1)

    Silas loves his church because it's full of familiar people and voices. It's just like home to him, if home were a fire-and-brimstone Calvinist church. In any case, what this passage suggests is that religion is supported by the structure of home. Without home, religious faith collapses.

    The fading grey light fell dimly on the walls decorated with guns, whips, and foxes' brushes, on coats and hats flung on the chairs, on tankards sending forth a scent of flat ale, and on a half-choked fire, with pipes propped up in the chimney-corners: signs of a domestic life destitute of any hallowing charm (1.3.4)

    This first view of the Red House hints at what home looks like without women: it's all guns, beer, and disorder. The Red House doesn't need "hallowing charm"; it needs a woman's touch.

    The disinherited son of a small squire, equally disinclined to dig and to beg, was almost as helpless as an uprooted tree, which, by the favour of earth and sky, has grown to a handsome bulk on the spot where it first shot upward. (1.3.25)

    Godfrey doesn't want to tell his father about his secret marriage, because he's afraid of being disinherited. This metaphor, comparing a disinherited son to an uprooted tree, emphasizes the importance of place and home. Godfrey can't just pick up and move. He's tied to his father's land—and, let's be honest, his father's pocketbook.

    Godfrey's was an essentially domestic nature, bred up in a home where the hearth had no smiles, and where the daily habits were not chastised by the presence of household order; his easy disposition made him fall in unresistingly with the family courses, but the need of some tender permanent affection, the longing for some influence that would make the good he preferred easy to pursue, caused the neatness, purity, and liberal orderliness of the Lammeter household. (1.4.38)

    A house isn't a home without a woman at the hearth. "Neatness, purity, and liberal orderliness" are Nancy's characteristic. They're also the characteristics of Dolly Winthrop, Eppie, and, to some extent, Silas himself—but they're the exact opposite of Dunstan's slovenly drunkenness. Girls rule, boys drool.

    I tell Nancy, it's a folly no woman need be guilty of, if she's got a good father and a good home: let her leave it to them as have got no fortin, and can't help themselves. (1.11.13)

    Priscilla Lammeter is a coarser version of her sister Nancy, but unlike Nancy, she's perfectly content to tend to her father and her dairy. As men need women to make a home, women also seem to need men: without her man, Molly, Godfrey's first wife, ends up dead under a bush. But lucky Priscilla doesn't need to marry because she's already got a man (her father) to make a home for.

    […] as some man who has a precious plant to which he would give a nurturing home in a new soil, thinks of the rain, and the sunshine, and all influences, in relation to his nursling, and asks industriously for all knowledge that will help him to satisfy the wants of the searching roots, or to guard leaf and bud from invading harm. (1.14.49)

    To up the variety of comparing people to insects, Eliot draws a lot of comparisons between plants and people. Uprooting destroys both, and here, Silas becomes the best sort of gardener as he seeks out all the information he can gain to make a good home for his little transplant. When Eppie grows up, she becomes a gardener too. Yep, there's definitely something going on with plants and gardens.

    The presence of this happy animal life was not the only change which had come over the interior of the stone cottage. There was no bed now in the living-room, and the small space was well filled with decent furniture, all bright and clean enough to satisfy Dolly Winthrop's eye. (2.16.26)

    If something is "bright and clean," you know a woman can't be far away. And look, there's Eppie! Eppie has brought new life to Silas's heart and also to his home. Although he never married, Eppie can act like a wife in making his house beautiful and inviting. Creepy father-daughter relationships? Totally a thing in Victorian literature.

    A great change has come over the dark wainscoted parlour since we saw it in Godfrey's bachelor days, and under the wifeless reign of the old Squire. Now all is polish, on which no yesterday's dust is ever allowed to rest, from the yard's width of oaken boards round the carpet, to the old Squire's gun and whips and walking-sticks, ranged on the stag's antlers above the mantelpiece. (2.16.2)

    Silas's cottage isn't the only one that's improved since we first met it. The Red House is looking pretty spruce these days, thanks to Nancy. The Squire's tools of manhood—whips, gun, stick—are up on the mantel being decorative, while Nancy's industriousness makes the house shine.

    "And I don't want to be a lady—thank you all the same" (here Eppie dropped another curtsy). "I couldn't give up the folks I've been used to." (2.19.29)

    Home is where the heart is. Given the opportunity to live an awesome life—well, awesome if all you care about is money—Eppie refuses. She can't bear to leave home, and, for her, home means living in close proximity to the people she knows and loves. A young plant can be moved, but a grown one has roots that go too deep.

    Eppie had a larger garden than she had ever expected there now; and in other ways there had been alterations at the expense of Mr Cass, the landlord, to suit Silas's larger family. For he and Eppie had declared that they would rather stay at the Stone-pits than go to any new home. The garden was fenced with stones on two sides, but in front there was an open fence, through which the flowers shone with answering gladness, as the four united people came within sight of them.

    "O father," said Eppie, "what a pretty home ours is! I think nobody could be happier than we are." (2.21.16-17)

    Silas Marner ends with an ode to home. But "prettiness" is a weird adjective—for Eppie, a "pretty" home and a "happy" home seem to be one and the same. Can an ugly house still be a home? Or, here's a thought: is it pretty because she loves it and the people in it?