Literature Study GuidesSilas MarnerPart 1 Chapter 5 Summary

Silas Marner | Study Guide

George Eliot

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Silas Marner | Part 1, Chapter 5 | Summary



As Dunstan Cass leaves Silas Marner's cottage, Silas himself is just returning from an errand in town. He'd had to leave the cottage unlocked because he was using the door key to help tie and suspend a chunk of pork over the fire and hadn't remembered the errand until the meat was roasting. But in 15 years, no one had snuck into his cottage and it had seemed less likely than ever on such a foggy night. So he'd set off to town without concern.

Arriving home, Silas makes himself comfortable by the fire. He is looking forward to the roast pork; he doesn't usually buy meat for himself, but this had been a gift from a customer. As it will not be ready for a while, he decides to get his guineas out and put them on the table, where he will be able to see them while enjoying his meal. He sweeps the sand aside and lifts out the bricks; he can't believe the hole is empty. He feels around in it, then holds a candle in it, but the bags of coins aren't there. He wonders if he left them somewhere else and has forgotten; he searches the cottage, but they are nowhere to be found. Finally he realizes that the coins are gone. "He put[s] his trembling hands to his head, and [gives] a wild ringing scream, the cry of desolation." Having expressed his shock and loss, he feels a slight relief, and goes to sit at his loom, "instinctively seeking this as the strongest assurance of reality." There he considers how the bags might have disappeared. A thief must have come in just now, while he was on his errand to town, as the door had been locked when he went out earlier in the day. The idea gives him hope, as a thief could be caught and his coins returned to him. But the sand and bricks had looked the same as always. Could it have been "a cruel power that no hands could reach, which had delighted in making him a second time desolate?" Silas pushes that idea away and considers who the thief might have been. He settles on the poacher Jem Rodney, who had once joked about Silas's money.

Silas doesn't want to get Jem or anyone else punished; he just wants his money back. To do this he realizes he needs the help of "the great people in the village—the clergyman, the constable, and Squire Cass." So he heads off into the night, leaving his head uncovered and his door unlocked, "for he felt as if he had nothing left to lose," running to the Rainbow where he can make his loss known and "find the powers and dignities of Raveloe." However, those people are all at the Osgoods' house for the dance that had kept Godfrey Cass from riding to the hunt; it is only the less elevated who are in the Rainbow tonight.


Just as Eliot examined Dunstan's personality and patterns of thought in Chapter 4, she deconstructs Silas's expectations, reactions, and thought processes in Chapter 5. Once again, she shows how his isolation has led Silas to anthropomorphize his gold and his loom. He looks forward to sharing dinner with the gold, and, when he discovers it's gone, he seeks proximity with the loom. He does so, Eliot tells readers, because he "instinctively seek[s] this as the strongest assurance of reality"; in other words, it offers him comfort and support.

The narrator says, "Marner did not want to punish [the thief], but only to get back his gold," and later explains, "Marner's ideas of legal authority were confused." In Silas's sect in Lantern Yard, it was forbidden for members to take legal measures against criminals such as thieves. This is why Silas was not condemned by the congregation after hearing and weighing the evidence but after drawing lots. Even though it has been 15 years since the sect cast him out and since he rejected his faith in a benevolent God, Silas still finds it difficult to go against this stricture. Eliot is pointing out once more that people are shaped by their pasts even when they try to deny and ignore that past as Silas has.

Although he has never become part of the Raveloe community, Silas knows that the Rainbow is its center and instinctively heads for the pub to seek the community's help in finding the thief and getting his gold restored to him. Given the distance between himself and the people of Raveloe and given his experience of betrayal by the community he trusted in Lantern Yard, it is surprising that he is willing to trust a community again, especially one that has not welcomed him. In Chapter 1, the narrator pointed out what a trusting nature Silas has; from his actions in Chapter 5, it is clear that some willingness to place trust in others is still present in the weaver.

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