Literature Study GuidesSilas MarnerPart 1 Chapter 3 Summary

Silas Marner | Study Guide

George Eliot

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Silas Marner | Part 1, Chapter 3 | Summary

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Summary

The only landowner in Raveloe with any tenants on his land is the widower Squire Cass. Godfrey Osgood, who farms his land himself, comes from the oldest family in the village. Every winter, when there's little work to do on their farms, people in Raveloe hold feasts and "merry-makings"; the Casses and the Osgoods are the first to host open houses for their neighbors. Squire Cass is a widower who spends a lot of time in the Rainbow. His second son, Dunstan Cass (called Dunsey for short), is a self-centered, unpleasant young man and a habitual gambler and drinker. His oldest son, Godfrey Cass, who stands to inherit his father's land, is usually "a fine open-faced good-natured young man" but recently this has changed. There is talk in the village that, if Godfrey descends to his brother's level, "he might say 'Good-bye' to Miss Nancy Lammeter." This would be a shame because Nancy is not only wealthy but also known to be frugal, and it is rumored that the Squire has been losing money of late so he would benefit from Nancy's marrying his son.

One November afternoon, Godfrey is standing in the untidy parlor of the Red House, as the family home is called, with a "look of gloomy vexation on [his] blond face." This expression darkens when his brother Dunsey enters. Dunsey is a heavyset, dark-haired young man; he's already slightly drunk. At Dunsey's entrance, the family spaniel hides under a chair. Resentfully, Dunsey asks why Godfrey sent for him. Godfrey has lent the rent paid by the Squire's tenant, Fowler, to Dunsey, who has not paid it back. Now the Squire, who doesn't know Fowler has already paid, is threatening to seize the tenant's property if he doesn't pay immediately. Dunsey "sneeringly" suggests that Godfrey come up with the £100 himself; if he doesn't, Dunsey will tell their father that Godfrey married the dissolute Molly Farren, get Godfrey disowned, and become the Squire's heir. Godfrey replies that, if that happened, he would get Dunsey disowned. Anyway, he says, their brother Bob Cass is their father's favorite. But Godfrey's threats don't faze Dunsey, who suggests Godfrey sell his horse, Wildfire, to one of the men at the hunt the following day. Godfrey says he's going to the Osgoods in the evening, and Dunsey makes fun of him for intending to dance with "sweet Miss Nancy" Lammeter there; then he threatens to tell her about Molly if Godfrey doesn't pay the debt. This is too much for Godfrey; he has to have money to give Molly, who is also blackmailing him by threatening to tell the Squire about their marriage. Godfrey says he might as well tell their father himself. Both men know that Godfrey won't risk that, though; he tends to be indecisive and avoids risking the status quo. Dunstan offers to ride in the hunt and sell Wildfire himself. He's confident he can get £120. Godfrey agrees but warns his brother to ride carefully so as not to hurt the horse.

After Dunsey leaves, Godfrey is left to ponder his situation. He's 26, and life is already a bore. He disapproves of the bad habits he has fallen into and wishes it were possible to marry Nancy because she would provide an "influence that would make the good he preferred easy to pursue." He is too weak-willed to do it on his own. As bad as things are, though, it would be even worse if his secret were told. He's glad in the end that Dunsey will be riding to the hunt the next day because the hunt will ride near where Molly lives and the thought of seeing her disgusts him. It is the weight of this secret marital mistake that is turning "the good-humoured, affectionate-hearted Godfrey Cass" into "a bitter man." Godfrey wonders what to do this evening and decides to go to the Rainbow to listen to the men talk about the cock fighting, which he doesn't enjoy himself. While he's been deliberating, the spaniel has been sitting patiently in front of him and now jumps on him "for the expected caress," but the poor dog gets pushed away and follows Godfrey out of the room.

Analysis

In the second paragraph of Chapter 3, the narrator pulls back from events in Raveloe to view them from the broad perspective of someone who can see beyond the local landscape and can predict the village's future. The narrator has mentioned several times already that the village has abundance, and much of this is due to the high price the government will pay to feed its troops. But the Napoleonic Wars are drawing to a close, and soon village incomes will drop. People like Squire Cass and his sons, who seem to spend their money freely and even gamble it away, will be "carr[ied] down that road to ruin." If Godfrey succeeds in marrying the sensible and competent Nancy, maybe he can still save the family's land. The village, the narrator reminds readers, is "aloof from the currents of industrial energy and Puritan earnestness"; that is, it still enjoys an idealized feudal structure, in which the poor gossip about the rich without envy and with a certain sense of ownership—after all, Raveloe's rich are not nobility and not actually particularly rich; they are small landowners, most of whom work on the land just as the poor do. Moreover, those villagers with money and abundance share it with their poorer neighbors as in the winter festivities the narrator describes in this paragraph. Poor or comfortably off, everyone attends church together, and everyone gossips together over a tankard of ale in the Rainbow. This sort of relaxed, small-scale feudalism is a holdover, the narrator warns, that cannot survive. Sooner or later, history—in the form of a peacetime economy, growing industrialization, and the spread of Puritan values—will overrun it.

Readers' first encounter with Godfrey and Dunsey comes when they witness a confrontation between the two brothers. As with their facial expressions, other physical features underline the brothers' personality differences. The normally pleasant Godfrey is tall, blond, and handsome, whereas Dunsey is stocky, dark, and often flushed with drink. Each addresses the other differently as well. Godfrey is direct and straightforward, while Dunsey is sarcastic and mocking. (Of course, this is not to say that Godfrey is honest with everyone. The two men are brothers and know everything about each other; despite his anger and disapproval, Godfrey is honest with Dunsey.) Godfrey finds it hard to act, especially if taking action will cause anyone—himself included—pain; Dunsey likes nothing better than to cause others pain—perhaps especially his brother—and is even careless with his own fate. For instance, when Godfrey threatens that, if Dunsey tells anyone about his secret marriage, he will reveal things Dunsey has done, making sure Dunsey is also disowned, Dunsey is unconcerned. He says, "Never mind ... It 'ud be very pleasant to me to go in your company ... But you'd like better for us both to stay at home together; I know you would." It is more important to Dunsey to control and injure his brother than to protect himself. Godfrey, in contrast, would rather do nothing at all than take a risk by trying to influence fate. The two brothers could hardly be less alike.

Godfrey knows his brother well and therefore feels a certain trepidation about letting Dunsey ride Wildfire in the hunt. Still, this is an opportunity for him to avoid the chance of running into Molly while ensuring he is able to go to the birthday celebration at the Osgoods, where he is likely to see Nancy. Unfortunately, Godfrey's concern will prove to be justified; his warning to Dunsey foreshadows Wildfire's death.

George Eliot frequently used a technique called free indirect discourse. Free indirect discourse states a character's thoughts while continuing to use the third person. A good example is the first three lines of the last paragraph in this chapter:

What was he to do this evening to pass the time? He might as well go to the Rainbow, and hear the talk about the cock-fighting: everybody was there, and what else was there to be done? Though, for his own part, he did not care a button for cock-fighting.

Rather than use direct speech to give Godfrey's thoughts ("What should I do this evening to pass the time? I might as well go to the Rainbow" and so forth), Eliot blends these thoughts into the rest of the narration, making for a smooth transition between Godfrey's thoughts and the descriptive sentences in which they are embedded. Free indirect discourse also contrasts easily and clearly with direct speech in sections of dialogue.

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