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Silas Marner | Discussion Questions 1 - 10


In Silas Marner, Part 1, Chapter 1 what motivated William Dane to frame Silas Marner for theft?

In Part 1, Chapter 1, readers learn that it is likely that this particular incident was a crime of convenience. William Dane probably arrived at 2 a.m. to take over care of the deacon from Silas Marner only to find Silas frozen in a cataleptic fit and the deacon dead. Knowing the money was in the drawer and having Silas's penknife in his pocket, he jimmied the drawer and took the money. Then he had to make sure he wasn't caught, so he left the knife there and went home. Later he told people he had been too ill to leave his bed. Sometime before Silas's room is searched, William hides the bag there and later finds it during the search. Although this crime may have occurred because William entered the room and found there would be no witnesses to his taking the money, his campaign to lessen Silas's status begins earlier, when he says Silas's "trance looked more like a visitation of Satan than a proof of divine favour." This was probably an attempt to break up Silas and Sarah because William often spends time with the two of them and has likely developed feelings for her. Moreover, William's feelings may be reciprocated because, as the narrator points out, "Sarah [does] not object to William's occasional presence in their Sunday interviews." After his first fit and William's suggestion that it was demonic in nature, Silas also notices "Sarah's manner towards him beg[ins] to exhibit a strange fluctuation between an effort at an increased manifestation of regard and involuntary signs of shrinking and dislike." Whatever his original plan, framing Silas for the theft turns out well for William. He drives his rival out of town and gets to keep both the money and the girl.

In Silas Marner, Part 1, Chapter 1 why are Silas Marner and William Dane called "David and Jonathan," and how does this allusion relate to their friendship?

As readers learn in Part 1, Chapter 1, Silas Marner and William Dane were best friends and inseparable. Their sect was one of the many Bible-based sects that arose in close-knit communities at that time. Being so familiar with the Bible, the people in the congregation are making a sort of joke when they call Silas and William "David and Jonathan." According to 1 Samuel in the Old Testament, after David killed Goliath, King Saul kept him around. David became close friends with Saul's son, Jonathan. Both were very devout, and each put the other's well-being before his own. David and Jonathan remained friends for life. This was how the Lantern Yard congregation views the friendship between Silas and William: selfless and indestructible. But this characterization of their friendship turns out to be heavy with situational irony because William proves to be the opposite of a selfless and loyal friend. Whereas Jonathan saved David from being killed by Saul, William betrays Silas and turns the congregation against him. In the Bible story, Saul is jealous of David, who is renowned as a warrior and loved by many, including Saul's children, but Jonathan puts his loyalty to David ahead of his loyalty to his father and helps David escape. In the Lantern Yard congregation, it is William who is jealous of Silas: Silas's catalepsy has been interpreted as a sign of his special relationship with God, and he is happily engaged to Sarah. As Silas's friend, it would be William's job to protect Silas; instead, he betrays him, claims that the catalepsy indicates a relationship with the devil instead of with God, brings Silas's engagement to an end, and marries Sarah himself.

In Silas Marner, Part 1, Chapters 1 and 2 how does Silas Marner's hoard of gold replace his Lantern Yard congregation?

At prayer meetings and church services in Lantern Yard., Silas Marner knew the face of each person in his congregation. He had joined the sect early in life, and the members were his friends. He trusted them and believed he knew them. He felt that they knew and respected him. After William Dane frames him for theft, the congregation casts him out. In Raveloe, Silas doesn't have this sense of community. At first, his closest relationship is with his loom—the only familiar entity he has brought with him into his new life. He spends his days with the loom, but when the loom is silent in the evenings, he is alone. As his hoard grows, it becomes his habit to take it out in the evenings and handle the coins. The narrator explains that Silas "began to think [the gold] 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." Just as he once knew and loved the familiar faces of his Lantern Yard congregation, he now knows and loves the faces of his coins.

How does Silas Marner's past overshadow the events of Silas Marner, Part 1, Chapter 2?

For George Eliot, the past is important to mankind as a whole but also to each individual. A person is the product of his or her past, and the past is the soil that nourishes that person's future. When Silas Marner loses his connection to his roots in Lantern Yard (for which readers understand that William Dane, not Silas, is to blame), he becomes incapable of continuing to develop as a human being. In Chapter 2, when he first comes to Raveloe, he is too reticent and unsure of himself to reach out to the community there, and his pastimes are not the same as those of his neighbors. For instance, he doesn't drink, so he doesn't spend his time in the Rainbow Inn, which is an important center of the village community; also, he has lost his trust in God, so doesn't attend church. Silas's first opportunity to form an attachment within the community comes when he uses his knowledge of herbs to help the cobbler's wife with her heart problems. He briefly believes things will improve, but instead the villagers' superstition makes him even more of an outsider. As a result, he makes a complete break with the past, denying even his habit of charity toward others and his connection with his mother through the use of herbs. This break with the past allows Silas to fixate on his coins. Earning money is a familiar goal; in the past, money was a means to an end, such as charity, but now it becomes an end in itself. The narrator points out that Silas also establishes tenuous roots in Raveloe through his daily habits such as going to the well for fresh water. He associates this pleasant, life-giving activity with a particular brown pot. He uses the same pot for 12 years, and it embodies a continuity between the present and his early days in Raveloe. So when he breaks the pot, he mends it and keeps it in its place. It can no longer be used but is still a symbol of his years in the village.

In Silas Marner, Part 1, Chapter 2 how does Silas Marner's loom symbolize his life during his first 15 years in Raveloe?

For the first 15 years of his life in Raveloe, Silas Marner is an outcast. Besides weaving cloth on commission, he has no connections with the community. Instead, he works alone indoors at his loom, coming out only to run regular errands such as fetching water from the well each day, visiting the shops when needed, or taking an order to a customer. He stops looking for herbs. Regardless of the season, his actions are the same each day. Even though Silas keeps himself busy with work, chores, and interacting with his hoard of coins, he has no sense of time passing: he sees no children growing up, no one being born or dying, no changes of the season. It's as if he were motionless in time. The loom is the same. It is always active—the shuttle moving back and forth, the position of the warp and weft shifting, the roller turning, the beater hitting the cloth, and so on—but it is completely stationary at the same time. Still, because it is in use, one can imagine that it ages; parts break and have to be replaced or repaired. Similarly, Silas ages. But he cannot be repaired until he finds a connection with other people. Only then can he resume moving forward with his life.

In Silas Marner, Part 1, Chapter 3 what does the narrator mean by saying Godfrey Cass "would rather trust to casualties than to his own resolve"?

In the paragraph of Chapter 3 where these words appear, the narrator uses free indirect discourse to explore Godfrey Cass's character and thoughts with regard to Dunsey's (Dunstan's) threat to make known his secret marriage to Molly Farren. Free indirect discourse is a form of third-person narration that gives access to a character's internal monologue while continuing to use the third person. Here, Godfrey is thinking about what would happen if he were to confess the truth about his marriage to Molly. He realizes "that results of confession were not contingent, they were certain; whereas betrayal was not certain." That is, he can predict what will happen if he confesses: He will be disinherited and lose Nancy Lammeter. The narrator leads readers through his thoughts about what he might do then—work as a manual laborer ("dig") or beg in the streets. Working wouldn't be so bad, he thinks, but he still might lose Nancy. He might also enlist in the army, but being an enlisted man (as opposed to an officer) is not something a person from a "respectable family" can do. He thinks that if he does not confess, something may happen that will save him. So he decides not to act; he decides to leave things to chance—or "casualty." An archaic and little-used meaning of the word casualty is "an event occurring by chance." This decision not to act is a result of what the narrator calls Godfrey's "natural irresolution and moral cowardice," which will prevent him from ever being fully happy. Another example of Godfrey's willingness to leave important decisions to chance is his allowing Dunsey to ride Wildfire in the hunt. He's worried that Dunsey will not take care of the horse; what's more, he doesn't really want to sell his prize possession. So, rather than put his foot down, he hopes for rain: "'But it'll perhaps rain cats and dogs to-morrow, as it did yesterday, and then you can't go,' said Godfrey, hardly knowing whether he wished for that obstacle or not." Leaving it up to the weather takes the decision out of his hands.

In Silas Marner, Part 1, Chapter 3 what do readers learn from the behavior of the dog Snuff?

In Chapter 3, readers see Snuff react to each of the two older Cass sons. When alone with Godfrey Cass before Dunstan Cass's arrival, Snuff is lying contentedly on the hearth. She's fully at ease. Then Dunsey arrives, and Snuff "retreat[s] under the chair in the chimney-corner." Readers already know that Dunsey is "a spiteful jeering fellow" who drinks and gambles excessively. From Snuff's reaction to his entering the room, it appears that Dunsey is also cruel to animals. It's as if the dog has grown to expect to be greeted with a kick and wants to place herself out of harm's way. This impression is reinforced when, later in his conversation with Dunsey, Godfrey feels the need to caution his brother to "take care to keep sober to-morrow, else you'll get pitched on your head coming home, and Wildfire might be the worse for it." Dunsey does not care enough about animals to be trusted to take care of the horse, even though Wildfire will bring him more money if he's in good condition. After Dunsey leaves, Snuff comes back out from under the chair and sits at Godfrey's feet, watching him attentively until she finally loses patience and jumps up on the man. According to the narrator, the dog expects a "caress." Readers can deduce that Godfrey is usually affectionate to Snuff. But in his present mood, Godfrey thrusts her away without looking at her. This is rejection, of course, but does not cause pain, so Snuff willingly follows Godfrey as the man leaves for the pub. In contrast to Dunsey, there is no cruelty in Godfrey, and Snuff's behavior is a clear sign of this.

In Silas Marner, Part 1, Chapter 4 how does suspense build during Dunstan Cass's return to Raveloe, and what can be inferred about the end of his journey?

In Chapter 4, as Dunstan Cass starts his walk back to Raveloe, the narrator says it is "now nearly four o'clock" and night will fall soon. It's also getting misty, which makes things even darker. Without the light of the moon or stars, Dunstan will be in total darkness. Darkness is the main threat in the chapter, and Eliot addresses it in a three-part cycle. Dunstan recognizes he needs to reach the road before dark so he won't get lost. He has other worries, too: Someone he knows could see him walking back covered in mud, which would be humiliating. But he is saved from both dangers, making it back to "the well-known Raveloe lanes" without mishap. But it is now dark. With the mist, Dunstan can't see ruts in the road and worries about falling. He uses his whip to navigate. His danger increases when the mist turns to rain, making the dirt road slippery. With the idea of his falling implanted in the reader's mind, the narrator mentions the quarry: "He must soon, he thought, be getting near the opening at the Stone-pits: he should find it out by the break in the hedgerow." It is implied that he must be careful to avoid falling in. But this sequence ends well, too. He sees the welcome glow of Silas's windows and is distracted by the thought of Silas's money. The final sequence begins as he approaches the cottage; he moves carefully, again using the whip to feel his way; the quarry is nearby, and he's not sure which side of the cottage he's approaching. But he makes it inside safely. There, tension builds again as Dunsey looks for and finds the money; "he fe[els] an undefinable dread laying hold on him." Ironically, it's the darkness that now seems to offer safety. Dunstan knows he should be careful, but being seen seems like the greater danger. He steps quickly into the night without checking the ground. From the build-up of concern about darkness and the nearness of the quarry, readers can infer Dunsey has blindly fallen to his death.

In Silas Marner, Part 1, Chapters 4 and 5 how do Dunstan Cass and Silas Marner react differently to calamity?

In Chapter 4, Dunstan Cass is confronted with the loss of his brother's horse. Because Wildfire is dead, he will no longer be able to sell the horse for the £120 Bryce had agreed to pay. This means that Godfrey Cass will not be able to pay the Squire his tenant's rent, which will result either in Godfrey's having to explain where the money went or the tenant being kicked off the land for nonpayment. What's more, the Squire is not doing too well financially and needs the money. But Dunstan, who knew he should not have ridden the horse in the hunt after selling it, easily accepts the situation. He is calm and quickly convinces himself the money can be acquired by borrowing it from Silas Marner. He is incapable of taking responsibility emotionally or practically; he leaves Wildfire's body where it lies and walks on to his next misadventure. He's careful to button up his jacket and is concerned about meeting someone and what they might think of his muddy appearance. That worries him much more than the condition of Godfrey's prized steed. In contrast, when Silas Marner is confronted with the loss of his gold, he finds it hard to accept. Once he does, he focuses on his situation and considers how best to address it. His response is realistic and logical. Even though he normally has little to do with people in Raveloe outside of business dealings, he realizes he must overcome his reticence and make the theft known. Like Dunstan, he quickly sets his plan into motion, but unlike Dunstan, Silas focuses on a logical solution that directly and realistically addresses the event: he will report the theft at the Rainbow Inn, which is the gathering place of the community, including its most powerful citizens. After making this decision, Silas runs straight there. He doesn't care what others might think of his appearance; he doesn't bother with a hat; he just wants to tackle the problem directly as quickly and effectively as possible. Silas's response to calamity is the exact opposite of Dunstan's.

In Silas Marner, Chapter 5 what is meant by "was it a cruel power that no hands could reach, which had delighted in making him a second time desolate"?

In Chapter 5, it occurs to Silas Marner that perhaps it was no human thief that took his gold. After all, there hadn't been one visitor in 15 years, and the weather on this particular night had not been conducive to a thief's choosing to wander so close to the quarry. Also, as related in Chapter 1, the greatest loss in his life before this one had been the result of betrayal—betrayal by his closest friend, William Dane, which had "cruelly bruised" Silas's "trust in man," and, still worse, betrayal by the "just God that governs the earth righteously" in whom he had trusted so completely to clear him of wrongdoing. Now Silas wonders if the "God of lies, that bears witness against the innocent" has returned to take everything from him again. For Silas, his gold had replaced the wealth of friendship and love that he had found in the Lantern Yard congregation. God took that from him through the lottery, and it flashes through his mind that the same cruel God has once again stolen from him the one thing that gives him the greatest pleasure and that gives his life purpose.

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