Literature Study GuidesSilas MarnerPart 1 Chapter 6 Summary

Silas Marner | Study Guide

George Eliot

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Silas Marner | Part 1, Chapter 6 | Summary

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Summary

Before Silas Marner arrives at the Rainbow, the conversation is slow to develop. The men sit in silence till the landlord, John Snell, mentions to his cousin Bob Lundy, the butcher, that he's heard Bob bought "a fine beast." The butcher considers this before agreeing. After a few minutes, the farrier, John Dowlas, wonders if it was a red Durham. When the butcher finally agrees that the cow was red and a Durham, a rather aggressive conversation develops, with the farrier claiming he knows which cow it was and who sold it to the butcher—Mr. Lammeter; he claims he drenched the cow. The landlord calms the situation by saying they're both right and they're both wrong and then calling on old Mr. Macey, the parish clerk, to recall when the Lammeters first came to Raveloe. But Mr. Macey says he's passed on such matter to "the young uns" who "have been to school at Tarley: they've learnt pernouncing." For his part, the deputy clerk, Mr. Tookey, refuses "to speak out of [his] place," which prompts the wheelwright, Ben Winthrop, who also leads the church choir, to "wish [Mr. Tookey would] keep hold o' the tune." Mr. Tookey flushes and suggests "there may be two opinions" about a tune. At that, Mr. Macey jumps in to say, "There'd be two 'pinions about a cracked bell, if the bell could hear itself." Everyone laughs—except Mr. Tookey, who thinks they want him out of the choir so he won't get a share of the Christmas money. Winthrop says they'd pay him his share to leave the choir. Again, the landlord breaks in to calm the mood, saying they're both right and they're both wrong. Winthrop, also "conciliatory," says it's a shame Mr. Macey's brother doesn't live in Raveloe as he's "the first fiddler in this countryside."

Now the landlord comes back to his earlier question: "You remember when first Mr. Lammeter's father come into these parts, don't you, Mr. Macey?" And Mr. Macey tells the story. The elder Mr. Lammeter came from "north'ard," though no one knows just where, and "he brought a fine breed o' sheep with him," so everyone felt it couldn't have been too far away. People said his wife had died, and he'd sold his land; but Mr. Macey finds it odd that he would sell land he owned only to move somewhere and rent land. The younger Mr. Lammeter married Godfrey Osgood's sister, who, unfortunately, died while her two daughters were still young. The conversation turns to the farm the Lammeters rent; it's called the Warrens and is Charity Land because the last owner had died without an heir and left the farm to a charity. He'd built the largest stables in the area, but the Lammeters don't use them. But on a dark night, people still "see lights i' the stables, ... hear the stamping o' the hosses, [and] the cracking o' the whips, and howling, too, if it's tow'rt daybreak." Dowlas, the farrier, says he'll "wager any man ten pound, if he'll stand out wi' me any dry night in the pasture before the Warren stables, as we shall neither see lights nor hear noises," but no one will take him up on the bet. The landlord says that some can see ghosts and some can't, so he "hold[s] with both sides." This annoys the farrier, who says, "If ghos'es want me to believe in 'em, let 'em leave off skulking i' the dark and i' lone places—let 'em come where there's company and candles."

Analysis

Chapter 6 contrasts with earlier chapters in that it consists almost entirely of dialogue and includes little of the descriptive narration and free indirect discourse that typified Chapters 1 through 5. Through the dialogue, the chapter offers readers their first close encounter with the working men of Raveloe, who will feature more frequently in the narrative after this point. Readers learn a little more about the moneyed families in the area, too, especially the Lammeters, and a lot about the men who frequent the Rainbow Inn. They are the shopkeepers and craftsmen of the area, as well as minor officials. In fact, the Cass men and others in their circle might have been there as well if it weren't for the celebration at the Osgoods.

The landlord in particular likes to keep the conversation going by asking questions of specific people; he also prevents fights from erupting by claiming the two sides in any disagreement are both right and wrong; this is good for business, of course. The farrier, the narrator tells readers, is "the negative spirit in the company"—but not before making this clear in the conversation. No matter what someone else says, Dowlas will say the opposite: The cow cannot be such a "fine beast" as the landlord says because Dowlas had to drench it, and the old stables at the Warrens can't be haunted as he's never seen a ghost. Ben Winthrop, the wheelwright, has a good sense of humor, though it may be at another's expense. The men's conversation is light, charming, and believable; it offers welcome comic relief after the serious and often upsetting events that have taken place in the novel up to this point.

For modern readers, it is worth noting that women do not spend their evenings in the Rainbow. While it is a microcosm of the Raveloe community, it would be improper for women to spend time drinking in a public house. As a result, it reflects a male-dominated perspective. In that way, it is unlike Silas's Lantern Yard congregation, where women and men worshipped together. In Raveloe, the church is slightly more woman-dominated since the men, as mentioned in Chapter 2, tended to remain at home or in their fields during services.

Although today a farrier is a person who specializes in shoeing horses and tending their lower legs, in the early 1800s, a farrier combined blacksmithing (to make horseshoes) and shoeing horses with general veterinary services for farmers. To drench an animal was to give it a potion that purged, or completely emptied, the animal's intestines. This might have been made necessary by intestinal parasites (worms, for example) or some other medical problem. So the farrier is claiming that the animal the butcher had purchased wasn't so "fine" at all but had been ill and needed to be purged.

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