Literature Study GuidesSilas MarnerPart 1 Chapter 14 Summary

Silas Marner | Study Guide

George Eliot

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Silas Marner | Part 1, Chapter 14 | Summary

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Summary

The dead stranger is buried in Raveloe in a pauper's grave, and her death is not made known outside the village. Silas Marner has surprised his neighbors again by deciding to keep her child, and the mothers of the town are ready to advise him. The one whose advice and help he finds "most acceptable" is Dolly Winthrop, who gives him her seven-year-old son's "petticoats" from when he was two. She helps him bathe and dress the child and offers to come help take care of her during the day. Silas worries the girl might "get fond o' somebody else," but she takes "his head with both her small arms, and put[s] her lips against his face with purring noises," and Dolly reassures him, saying, "See there ... she's fondest of you."

Dolly says Silas must take the child to church and have her "learn her catechise"; he should also get her christened. Silas has never heard the term before; in Lantern Yard, adults were baptized, but no one was christened. He asks what it means. Dolly "with gentle distress and compassion" asks him if his parents didn't teach him to pray or that "there's good words and good things to keep us from harm." He explains that he used to "know a deal about that" but that it's done differently in Raveloe than in his "country." He says, though, that he wants to do "whatever's right for [the child] i' this country," so Dolly says she'll set the plans in motion. She says the child will need a name, though. Silas says he'll call her after his mother and little sister—Hephzibah. Dolly, who's never heard the name, thinks it's hard to say and might not be a Christian name, but Silas explains "It's a Bible name" and that they had called his sister Eppie.

Eppie is christened, and so is Silas. And their life together begins. He learns to be a father and to take pleasure in her pleasure. As she learns about life, his old memories reawaken. A year later, Eppie is getting into mischief, and Silas has to learn about disciplining a child. Dolly suggests either gentle physical punishment or shutting her in the coal store, but he can't bear the thought of "a moment's contention with her, lest she should love him the less for it." One day she manages to get ahold of the scissors he uses for work and cuts the linen tether that keeps her in the room. Distracted by his work, Silas doesn't notice her run out of the cottage. When he does, he's frantic, afraid she may have fallen into the quarry. After a long search, he finds her sitting beside a pond playing in the mud. He picks her up in joy and takes her home, but then realizes she should be punished. He decides to put her in the small coal store beside the hearth, but his resolve lasts only a moment; as soon as he hears one little cry from her, he takes her out again. He cleans her up, and turns his back briefly. When he turns back to her, her face and hands are black again, and she announces, "Eppie in de toal-hold!" Silas tells Dolly he can't bear to punish her and will have to "bear" any "trouble" she makes. "She's got no tricks but what she'll grow out of," he says.

When Silas has to go to see his customers, he always takes Eppie with him. Where before his customers had had little time to spare for him, now they are glad to see him and always ask about Eppie. Other children like her and, as a result, have lost their fear of Silas. Silas wants to learn about village life in Raveloe for Eppie's sake. He is no longer interested in hoarding coins because the sense of bereavement is still with him, but money again becomes a means to an end—taking care of Eppie.

Analysis

Taking on Molly's child is a commitment for which Silas is ill-prepared. Certainly, he is able to cook and keep house, but he must work long hours at the loom. What's more, he has lived alone since well before coming to Raveloe and has had no experience of taking care of a child. Dolly has four sons but has always wanted a daughter. So she has the parental experience Silas lacks, and he has the daughter she longs for. Moreover, he is an outsider in Raveloe and has found it a lonely life; after all, in Lantern Yard he felt included, and now he wants Eppie to experience that sense of community. Dolly is an integral part of the Raveloe community, so she can guide him in this as well. Besides having much to offer, Dolly is not the sort of person who bosses others around; she makes honest, straightforward suggestions, but they are selfless—always intended to help the other person. She is trustworthy, which is a quality Silas looks for in others and which he has had trouble finding. This is the beginning of a lifelong friendship between these two people and one that helps integrate both Silas and Eppie into the community.

Like the rest of Raveloe, Dolly has always thought of Silas as un-Christian. She doesn't judge him as some others do or wonder whether he is in league with Satan, but she knows he doesn't attend the local church or celebrate the holidays. Her own experience of Christianity is as limited as Silas's, so she doesn't realize there are other types. So, when he says he's never been to church, she assumes he's never been religious at all. But the opposite is true. Silas was a member of a Calvinist sect, so he was actually a much more fervent churchgoer than she and is actually better versed in the Bible. That's why the name he picks for the toddler arouses Dolly's concern that it is a pagan name and can't be used for the christening. She's surprised to hear that it is a biblical name but accepts Silas's word on that. An important basis for their friendship is her willingness to keep an open mind about Silas.

Church attendance and religion are different in Raveloe than they are in Lantern Yard. They form a background to the village's life rather than its central structure and life force. People don't attend church regularly on Sundays, much less during the week; they don't study the Bible; they don't donate their time and money to the needs of the church as people (like Silas) do to meet the needs of the sect in Lantern Yard. Instead, as a farming community, it is the seasons and the natural cycle of crops and families that structure and give meaning to the lives of the villagers of Raveloe. Religion complements this rather than dominates it.

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