Literature Study GuidesSilas MarnerPart 1 Chapter 8 Summary

Silas Marner | Study Guide

George Eliot

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Silas Marner | Part 1, Chapter 8 | Summary

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Summary

After the Osgoods' party, Godfrey Cass finds that Dunstan Cass has not returned home. This is not a surprise. There could be several good reasons, and Godfrey would not expect his brother to feel the need to fill Godfrey in on what had transpired with Wildfire's sale. In the morning, Godfrey becomes caught up in the village's fascination with the theft of Silas Marner's money. Like others he searches the area around the cottage and the quarry. The rain has washed away any footprints, but searchers find a tinderbox in a ditch nearby. There is some debate about whether it is related to the theft.

While the general populace is speculating outside the Rainbow, "a higher consultation was being carried on within, under the presidency of Mr. Crackenthorp, the rector, assisted by Squire Cass and other substantial parishioners." John Snell, the landlord, says he remembers a peddler who came in for a drink a month earlier who carried a tinderbox and that he seemed shifty and looked like a foreigner. He can't remember whether the peddler wore earrings, but thinks someone else in the village will know. The villagers are asked if he wore earrings and "immediately ha[ve] an image of him with ear-rings, larger or smaller, as the case might be; and the image was presently taken for a vivid recollection." All purchases from the peddler are assembled at the Rainbow. It turns out, though, that the peddler had never been inside Silas's cottage since Silas had not wanted to buy anything. People are skeptical and suspect that Silas, being both blind and half-crazy, didn't notice the peddler hanging around. After all, "it was a wonder the pedlar hadn't murdered him; men of that sort, with rings in their ears, had been known for murderers." Godfrey is the only person who speaks against this suspicion about the peddler, saying he'd bought a penknife from him and that he was a pleasant fellow and in no way suspicious. His statement is put down to "the random talk of youth" and ignored.

Godfrey is growing concerned about Dunstan and Wildfire. He suspects Dunstan has pocketed the price of the horse and is off somewhere squandering the money. As he's on his way to Batherley to look for Dunsey, Bryce rides up—though not on Wildfire—and tells Godfrey about the accident and the horse's death. They speculate briefly on where Dunstan might be; then Bryce rides off in another direction. Godfrey realizes he must tell his father about the rent money and considers telling him that he spent it himself because he feels his father would forgive him, but he can't bring himself to confess to theft: "I don't pretend to be a good fellow, ... but I'm not a scoundrel ... I'll bear the consequences of what I have done sooner than make believe I've done what I never would have done." Realizing that, if he confesses to the squire that Dunsey spent the rent money, Dunstan was likely to make good on his threat and tell their father about Godfrey's marriage to Molly Farren, Godfrey decides to add that to his confession. This is a dangerous decision because, when Squire Cass makes up his mind, he never changes it. Nevertheless, when Godfrey goes to sleep that night, he still firmly intends to confess. In the morning, however, he sees things differently; the "wisest [thing] for him to do, [is] to try and soften his father's anger against Dunsey, and keep things as nearly as possible in their old condition. If Dunsey [does] not come back for a few days ... everything might blow over."

Analysis

Eliot's observation of human nature and psychological analysis of her characters is acute, as demonstrated in this chapter.

In discussing the theft investigation, the narrator explains how evidence—a tinderbox—found near Silas's cottage is linked to a peddler. It reads much like the search for evidence in a modern crime drama. First, Snell, the landlord of the Rainbow, remembers a peddler with a tinderbox. When asked what the man looked like, he first thinks, then answers that he didn't say anything suspicious, but that he didn't like how the peddler looked at him and that "he had a swarthy foreignness of complexion which boded little honesty." This is an example of bias, one of the ways in which a person's memory can play tricks on him or her. Bias occurs when current beliefs affect how one remembers a past event. In this case, suspicion of dark-complexioned strangers, such as gypsies, has led to what would today be called ethnic profiling. When asked if the man wore earrings, he can't say for sure. So other villagers are asked not what the peddler looked like but whether he wore earrings. Because memory is suggestible—another way it can be tricky—and earrings have been explicitly mentioned, people incorporate earrings into their memories of the peddler, allowing their imaginations to fill in the details.

Godfrey's character comes under Eliot's lens in this chapter as well. Interestingly, he is not as suggestible as others with regard to the peddler's appearance. This may be because his focus is elsewhere; he is concerned about how Wildfire's death and his brother's disappearance will affect him. After learning that the horse was not sold but killed in a riding accident, he realizes that he will not be able to pay his father the rent money the tenant gave him and decides he must come clean about everything. He must be careful, though, because he knows that his father will never take back a decision once he's made it. Godfrey has good instincts at heart. He really doesn't want the tenant to take the fall for his own inability to resist his brother's demands, and he wants to do the right thing. At the same time, he doesn't want to lose his inheritance. So, although his instincts are good, his moral cowardice wins out, and he decides to hope that some chance occurrence will still save him from having to admit to the marriage.

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