Literature Study GuidesSilas MarnerPart 2 Chapter 20 Summary

Silas Marner | Study Guide

George Eliot

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Silas Marner | Part 2, Chapter 20 | Summary

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Summary

Back at the Red House, Godfrey Cass and Nancy agree that they cannot try to take Eppie away from Silas Marner. Godfrey says he will not tell anyone now that Eppie is his child because it could only bring "harm"; he will put it in his will. He thinks Eppie might be engaged to Aaron Winthrop because he saw him with Silas and Eppie after church. He also realizes that knowing Godfrey is her father has made Eppie dislike him and considers this his punishment for marrying Molly and shirking his duty as a father. Then his tone changes and he tenderly says, "And I got you, Nancy, in spite of all; and yet I've been grumbling and uneasy because I hadn't something else—as if I deserved it." She replies that her "only trouble would be gone if" Godfrey could accept their childlessness. He tells her it's not too late for that.

Analysis

Godfrey now looks back at his life and accepts that he has brought his childlessness on himself. He could have claimed Eppie 16 years ago, but didn't. He decides to keep the secret from the community—but not for his own sake. This time the secret is motivated by selflessness: He doesn't want to inflict pain on Eppie, Silas, or Nancy. Ever since his marriage to Molly, he has kept secrets and suffered regrets and the pricking of his conscience. Now, at long last, he allows himself to let go and accept the life he has.

And the life he has is a good one. Chapter 20 places Nancy at the center of it when the narrator says in the second sentence that she "st[ands] on the hearth near her husband." This invokes the symbol of the hearth as the center of the home. In the final paragraphs of the chapter, Godfrey confirms that she is still the most important thing to him when he says, "I got you, Nancy, in spite of all; and yet I've been grumbling and uneasy because I hadn't something else." It looks like Godfrey will finally allow himself to be happy.

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