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Silas Marner | Discussion Questions 41 - 50


What clues in Silas Marner, Part 2, Chapter 20 indicate Godfrey Cass's feelings about Eppie?

In Chapter 20, Godfrey Cass gives the impression of having allowed himself to love Eppie from afar for a long time. At one point, he says sadly, "She's a very pretty, nice girl, isn't she, Nancy?" He has felt drawn to her from the moment he recognized her in Silas Marner's arms at his father's New Year's Eve dance. However, he realizes—in fact, he realized even before leaving the cottage—that Eppie is happy and is best left with Silas. "That's ended!" he says, meaning that he's made the attempt and will not make another. Even recently, he has watched Eppie keenly. He noticed Aaron Winthrop with Silas and Eppie in church and deduces from this that Aaron is the fiance Eppie mentioned. He intends to keep the secret of Eppie's paternity until after his death. By then, it is likely Silas will also be dead, and the information that Godfrey is her father will hurt no one. He will be able to provide for her at last without harming anyone she loves.

What do Eppie and Silas Marner learn about Raveloe from their trip to Lantern Yard in Silas Marner, Part 2, Chapter 21?

Before they travel to Lantern Yard, Eppie is excited. Among other reasons, she will know something Aaron Winthrop does not. Silas Marner, of course, looks forward to seeing his home again and hopes to find out that his name has been cleared. But 30 years have passed, and much has changed in the town Silas comes from. It is Eppie who voices most of the contrasts with Raveloe, but Silas agrees with them. The buildings are tall and block out the sky; the town is crowded, with people living "so close together"; it smells bad. Silas doesn't remember it smelling bad, but it is likely he was just used to it. It may be worse now, but for centuries, crowded cities, especially in poorer sections, tended to smell bad because sewers were open channels in the streets where people emptied their chamber pots. During the Industrial Revolution, the smells of factories added to the stench. Their experience of the city makes both Silas and Eppie appreciate Raveloe, with its broad skies and accessible nature. For Silas, who has always been aware of another home in town, the replacement of Lantern Yard by a factory means that Raveloe is the only home he has now. But, thanks to Eppie and the village community, it is a very happy one.

In Silas Marner, Part 2, Chapter 21 if Silas Marner had found Mr. Paston, what would they have talked about and how might their discussion have turned out?

In Chapter 21, Silas Marner wants to discuss the tenets of the Lantern Yard sect's beliefs. He was a victim of their version of a trial, in which guilt or innocence was left to chance or destiny in the drawing of lots. He was innocent, but this game of chance found him guilty. He wants to find out whether the congregation ever learned the truth that William Dane had stolen the money and framed him and to discuss the justification for trial by lottery. Despite those events, Silas has retained his respect for Mr. Paston, calling him "a man with a deal o' light"—meaning goodness and understanding of the right way of doing things. Also, because of Eppie's christening, Silas has learned a lot about the way Christianity is practiced in Raveloe's relaxed Anglican community; he wants to ask Mr. Paston to discuss the theology behind Lantern Yard's strict Calvinism and to put to the minister that Anglicanism may also have a certain right on its side. It's unlikely, of course, that had he met Mr. Paston, he could have convinced him—if for no other reason than that the Lantern Yard community believed in reading and living by the Bible, whereas many in Raveloe's Anglican community, such as Dolly Winthrop, did not know the Bible well but allowed their consciences to guide them. The Lantern Yard community required strict observance of the sect's rules and regular attendance at prayer meetings and Bible study. In Raveloe, things were more lax, and it was the feeling in the community rather than the parish officials that encouraged church attendance; at that, people did not attend regularly. Mr. Paston would have been very likely to consider the people of Raveloe bad Christians because of their poor understanding of the Bible, irregular church attendance, and reliance on conscience rather than strict attention to Scripture. Silas, however, might have countered that it is charity of heart toward others in the community—something that already characterized Silas himself in his Lantern Yard days—that makes one a good person. His evidence is his experience of community life in Raveloe.

How does Silas Marner's reception at the Rainbow Inn differ from and relate to his reception in the Conclusion of Silas Marner, Part 1, Chapter 7?

When Silas Marner walks into the Rainbow Inn in Chapter 7, he is an outcast in the community. His appearance to the small groups of men in the pub is initially a shock. Some have the impression he's "an apparition," and his assertion that he's been robbed is met with some skepticism at first. The landlord tells him, "If you've got any information to lay, speak it out sensible, and show as you're in your right mind." But once he's told his story, it's clear that he needs help, and the men in the Rainbow are ready to provide it. This proves to be the beginning of the end of his isolation and the start of his inclusion in the community. Because neighbors feel they need to help Silas, they begin getting to know him. Soon afterward, when he finds Eppie and takes her in, they already know him well enough to offer help with this new challenge as well. Silas's reception at the Rainbow in the Conclusion comes 16 years later. There is nothing to indicate that he has been a frequent visitor to the pub, but he is now a well-known and valued member of the community. This time, because the event is a wedding feast, both men and women are in attendance. All agree that Silas "brought a blessing on himself by acting like a father to a lone motherless child" and "that when a man had deserved his good luck, it was the part of his neighbours to wish him joy." They cheer when they see the wedding party passing after the ceremony. But the seeds of this warm welcome were planted back in Chapter 7, when Silas opened himself to the community by asking for help, which made it possible for the community to open itself to Silas.

In Silas Marner, Conclusion, how do Priscilla Lammeter's comments to her father create an example of dramatic irony?

The Conclusion is only the third time readers have met Priscilla Lammeter (although she's been mentioned more often). The first time was in Chapter 11, when she attended the New Year's Eve party at Squire Cass's. At that time, Priscilla was about 28—five years older than her sister, Nancy. At that time, all she wants is to stay with her father and run his business. She mothers Nancy a bit, recalling Nancy's childhood, indulging her wishes, and fixing her gown when the stitching is torn. The next time readers meet Priscilla is in Chapter 17. As she and her aged father are leaving the Red House after Sunday lunch, she tells Nancy that she's glad Godfrey Cass is starting up a dairy because it will keep Nancy busy: "You'll never be low when you've got a dairy," she says. What is unspoken is that she is trying to convince Nancy that having a dairy will make up for not having children. In both meetings, Priscilla clings to the idea that she is glad she did not have children and that Nancy can be happy without them. The night readers first met Priscilla was the very night Molly Farren died and Silas Marner found and adopted Eppie. When Priscilla says to her father, "I could ha' wished Nancy had had the luck to find a child like that and bring her up," it is a case of dramatic irony because readers know that Eppie is Godfrey's daughter and could have been Nancy's stepdaughter—if only Godfrey had claimed her. So, had Godfrey not kept his secret, Nancy would have been the one to raise the child. Given that Priscilla was sure she would always be satisfied staying home and running the business, there is also some irony in Priscilla's statement that she "should ha' had something young to think of then, besides the lambs and the calves." In the end, her confident prediction about what would make her happy turns out to have been less than accurate. Perhaps, in light of her acknowledged ugliness, she was only making a virtue of necessity.

In Silas Marner, how is Godfrey Cass a foil for Silas Marner?

A foil is a character whose qualities contrast with those of another character, thus emphasizing that other character's qualities. Godfrey Cass and Silas Marner contrast starkly. Physically, Godfrey is youthful and handsome. His erect posture and outdoorsy athleticism are generally admired. Silas is bent and pale from his many hours spent indoors working at his loom. He looks old beyond his years, and his bulging eyes give him an insect-like appearance. Socially, Godfrey comes from one of the foremost families in Raveloe. Because the family has a number of tenants on their land, the Casses are considered wealthy, as well. The Casses live in a large house and have servants. Silas, in contrast, is working class and, except for the money he saves from his earnings, he is poor. He lives in a one-room cottage and takes care of himself. But the two men's inner qualities contrast quite differently. Here, though most people around them are unaware of it, it is Silas who comes out the better for the comparison. Godfrey is idle, indecisive, and easily led, whereas Silas is hard-working; he recognizes what he wants and takes action to get it; he is consistent. Godfrey is self-centered, putting his own needs before those of others. This is true even when, as a middle-aged man, he tries to take 18-year-old Eppie from her home. Silas puts others' needs before his own; when Godfrey offers a "better" life to Eppie, Silas is ready to let her go if that is what she wants. Until the end of the novel, despite all the opportunities that come his way, time and again Godfrey stands in the way of his own happiness, thus preventing Nancy Lammeter from being fully happy. Silas, in contrast, creates happiness for himself and for Eppie.

What is the role of history in George Eliot's Silas Marner?

From time to time, the narrator in Silas Marner refers to the world beyond Raveloe—events in England and Europe, referring to the Napoleonic wars and the Industrial Revolution. These references position the novel in its historical setting for readers. What's more, they have an impact, though sometimes indirect or delayed, on village life in Raveloe. For example, England's need to feed its soldiers at war in Europe artificially and temporarily inflates what farmers get for their produce, raising the income of people in the rural village. When the war ends, the villagers' incomes decrease. As a result of the mechanization of spinning and weaving, more cotton as cloth is produced in mills, and less flax is being spun, as the narrator mentions in Chapter 16; this lowers Silas Marner's income. (Eppie even marries in a cotton dress Nancy Cass buys her.) Silas and Eppie come face-to-face with the effects of the Industrial Revolution when they go to Lantern Yard in Chapter 21. Lantern Yard, with its dwellings and the chapel, has been torn down, and a factory has risen in its place. Village history also plays a part in the novel. Social status is closely related to the length of time a family has lived in the village. The Osgoods have been there as long as there has been a village, and Mr. Lammeter marries an Osgood, thus raising his own status. The Casses' relationship with their tenants is a remnant of a feudal society—one that disappears in the 16 years that elapse between the first and second parts of the novel. Along with the social structure that supports them, at least one of the three leading families (the Lammeters) will die out after the present generation through childlessness. Similarly, historically, the Kimbles have always been doctors, but Mr. Kimble is only a doctor by tradition; he's actually only a pharmacist. Moreover, he also has no children. Not only is the world outside Raveloe changing, but so is Raveloe itself.

In the novel Silas Marner, how does Silas Marner's catalepsy affect him?

Silas Marner's catalepsy makes him different from other people, and, although his fits are nothing more than a medical condition, other people can't help but ascribe meaning to his seeming trances. The congregation in Lantern Yard views them as a way of communing with God, whereas at least some of the villagers in Raveloe think they indicate a connection with the devil instead. But by the time Eppie is 18, the villagers have realized his fits are not supernatural and have recommended he smoke a pipe to control them. His fits have also had very tangible effects on his life. It was a fit that allowed William Dane to steal the church money in Lantern Yard and frame Silas for the theft. Thus, it was ultimately a fit that caused Silas to move to Raveloe. Then, on that very New Year's Eve after Silas's gold has been stolen and he has been outside to look around, wishing it might return, he has a fit that leaves him standing, holding the door open. So it is a fit that allows little golden-haired Eppie to wander into his cottage and bring happiness into his life.

In Silas Marner, Part 1, Chapters 2 and 7 how do the metaphors of a spider and an insect relate to Silas Marner?

In Chapter 2, the narrator says that Silas Marner weaves "like the spider, from pure impulse, without reflection." Similarly, she calls him "a spinning insect." At this time, he has just arrived in Raveloe, and work is his refuge from his sense of betrayal after the events in Lantern Yard. A spider, who weaves its webs, is a logical metaphor. The spider weaves because it is its nature to weave, and, after years as a weaver, it is also Silas's nature to weave. After being thrown out of the congregation, he has no higher calling. The narrator extends and returns to the insect metaphor in Chapter 7, when John Dowlas, the farrier, says to Silas, "your eyes are pretty much like a insect's, Master Marner; they're obliged to look so close, you can't see much at a time." And however wrong Dowlas might be in suggesting that Silas has misplaced his gold, he is very correct in noting how near-sighted the weaver is. Like an insect, Silas doesn't see much beyond his own work. All that will change after Eppie enters his life.

How does George Eliot use biblical allusions in Silas Marner?

Many allusions in Silas Marner are biblical in origin. Some are related to the theme of organized religion. For example, the Lantern Yard congregation refers to Silas Marner and William Dane as "David and Jonathan," the close friends whose story is told in the books of Samuel. William, perhaps out of jealousy that Silas's fits make it seem like God has chosen him, claims he's sure of his own salvation because, during "the period of his conversion, he ... dreamed that he saw the words "calling and election sure" standing by themselves on a white page in the open Bible." This refers to 2 Peter 1:10: "Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall." The Bible is interwoven with these people's everyday lives. Silas was raised in the Lantern Yard congregation, and the Bible remains in his mind. He names his child Hephzibah, for instance. This was not only the name of his mother and his sister; it was the name of the wife of the godly king in 2 Kings and of Zion in Isaiah 62:4 ("Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate: but thou shalt be called Hephzibah, and thy land Beulah: for the LORD delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married."). Hephzibah means "my delight is in her." Thus, it's a very suitable name for Eppie, who is Silas's delight and also his redemption. Herself a Bible scholar, Eliot places many biblical allusions in the narration, too. For example, in the last paragraph of Chapter 14, the narrator refers to angels leading people out of Sodom, then says, "We see no white-winged angels now. But yet men are led away from threatening destruction: a hand is put into theirs, ... and the hand may be a little child's." The last sentence refers to Isaiah 11:6: "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; ... and a little child shall lead them."

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