Is it possible to interpret Silas Marner from a Marxist approach?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One way of approaching this rich and multi-layered novel is to see it as a critique of the class system that dominated English society at the time of writing this novel. Note the way that Eliot presents the reader with a character who is clearly located at the very bottom of the social pile in Ravenloe society. Silas is shunned by his neighbours and also shuns them. He is treated with suspicion and clearly does not "belong." The superiority of the governing class is shown at various stages in the text: the assumption of Dunstan Cass that he can just take the money of Silas without any consequences, the belief expressed by Godfrey that he can take Eppie and adopt her no matter what Silas thinks. These assumptions are based on a power imbalance that Marxist critics would find particularly interesting, especially in the way that both of these assumptions are finally rejected and Silas gets his gold back and Godfrey has to watch on as Silas keeps Eppie. Consider how the story ends:

They had come to keep Nancy company to-day, because Mr. Cass had had to go away to Lytherley, for special reasons. That seemed to be a pity, for otherwise he might have gone, as Mr. Crackenthorp and Mr. Osgood certainly would, to look on at the wedding feast which he had ordered at the Rainbow, naturally feeling a great interest in the weaver who had been wronged by one of his own family.

Godfrey Cass is unable to participate in the wedding feast of his natural daughter, and, as a kind of moral consequence of his actions in the past, he and Nancy have been unable to have their own children. Life for Silas Marner is certainly not easy, but Eliot deliberately criticises the class system by showing that the ruling class are not always able to get their own way in life and oppress and exploit the working class.


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