Study Guide

Silas Marner Greed

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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.

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