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Silas Marner | Motifs



The idea of history is part of the backdrop of Silas Marner. From time to time, Eliot reminds readers of what is going on in England and Europe in order to set her narrative against the backdrop of the history of the time. Within the village, only a few people seem aware of this external history, though. They are more concerned with the history of the village itself. In the Rainbow Inn, for instance, the landlord asks his customers to talk about the history of the farms and the landowning families.

The Supernatural

The supernatural is an idea that comes up frequently in Silas Marner. Silas and Dolly are both concerned with the nature and existence of a greater power. Mr. Macey is concerned that Silas has some sort of connection with the devil and that his soul leaves his body, and many villagers suspect Silas has supernatural powers because of his knowledge of herbs. His odd looks, especially his pallor, feed this perception. Following a discussion of ghosts at Mr. Lammeter's unused stables, Silas walks into the Rainbow Inn and is immediately taken for an apparition.

Cataleptic Fits

Silas suffers from catalepsy, and his fits are mentioned often. In fact, they drive many of the main plot points. He is having a fit when the church money is stolen in Lantern Yard. He is also having a fit when Eppie first wanders into his cottage. His fits help shape people's perceptions of him: the Lantern Yard congregation thinks they are a sign of communication with God; some Raveloe villagers find them signs of a more ominous communication.


The narrator details long lists of Christmas baking and the foods prepared for the various winter open houses. She specifies the food that Silas is given by customers, and even what is cooking on his hearth the night Dunstan steals his money. Food, like the hearth, represents warmth, comfort, abundance, and security.

Household Chores

The narrator describes the various daily chores that Silas does to take care of himself; in fact, he is attached to his routines and saddened when the jug he uses to fetch water from the well is broken. Other people's chores are also listed, such as the Lammeter sisters' cooking and dairy work. Nancy's work results in her having rough hands, which astounds the visiting Miss Gunns as they dress for Squire Cass's New Year's Eve party. Chores represent a sense of responsibility, something Godfrey doesn't have.


In Part 1 of Silas Marner, the weather is often rainy and sometimes foggy. For instance, Dunstan makes his way home to Raveloe through the fog, which turns to mist as he nears Raveloe and to rain as he reaches Silas's cottage. The weather symbolizes Dunstan's confused state of mind. Events in Part 1 take place largely in late fall and winter. In Part 2, which takes place mostly in spring, the narrator mentions the sun. Eliot often uses weather to express the moral environment.

Biblical Allusions

Allusion is a device Eliot commonly uses, and her most frequent allusions are to the Bible. Eliot was a scholar of the Bible, so it came as easily to her as it does to her character Silas Marner. Her allusions are sometimes part of the action, as in the Lantern Yard congregation referring to Silas and William as "David and Jonathan." They may also be a part of the character description. For example, the narrator says after Silas's money has been stolen that he is "thinking of the long night-hours before him, not as those do who long to rest, but as those who expect to 'watch for the morning.'" This is an allusion to Psalm 130:6: "My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning."

Free Indirect Discourse

The narrative device Eliot uses most noticeably and frequently is free indirect discourse. This is a way of describing characters' thoughts without having to quote them directly. The narration continues in third person, but enters the mind of the character. For example, in Part 1, Chapter 8, Godfrey goes to sleep having decided to tell his father about his marriage to Molly so that he can no longer be blackmailed. But he wakes up in the morning and immediately changes his mind. The narrator first describes what Godfrey is thinking: "Instead of arguments for confession, he could now feel the presence of nothing but its evil consequences: the old dread of disgrace came back ... the old disposition to rely on chances which might be favourable to him, and save him from betrayal." Then, she slips into his mind and gives his exact thoughts, but maintains the third person: "Why, after all, should he cut off the hope of them by his own act? He had seen the matter in a wrong light yesterday." This device is used in almost every chapter of the novel.

Secrets and Lies

There are a number of secrets and lies in Silas Marner, beginning with William's lie about Silas and the church money in Lantern Yard. But Eliot illustrates this motif mostly through the older Cass brothers, Godfrey and Dunstan. Godfrey has a secret and must lie the rest of his life to cover it up. Keeping the secret ends up costing him the opportunity to raise and love a child. Dunstan's lies are not told as a cover up; he just likes lying. He lies not only to others, but also to himself. It is his lies to himself that lead him to steal from Silas and, ultimately, to his death in the quarry. Even though he has just come a long way through the darkness, mist, and rain, Dunsey convinces himself that Silas has died out in the night and that no one would have a claim on the solitary weaver's money. So he sees no problem in searching for and taking it. He then convinces himself he'll be fine if he just goes a few yards into the darkness without feeling his way. He is lying to himself again, as he took great care to feel his way when approaching the cottage. This time, believing his own lie kills him.

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