What is Silas' vocation in Silas Marner by George Eliot?

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herappleness's profile pic

M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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Silas Marner's vocation is shown to us on Chapter 1, and it states that he is a linen weaver. He appears to be specially talented in this area since he really catches the attention of the Raveloe boys each time their hear the sound of Silas Marner's loom. The effect is so profound that they even stop what they are doing in order to be able to witness Silas doing what he apparently does best. His job, he does from "a stone cottage that stood among the hedgerows near the village of Raveloe". It is also known that Silas's vocation is characteristics of emigrants who, from generations, have had a good hand at linen weaving and are often rejected in the towns to where they move. Hence, linen-weaving is thought to be a job for people who are eccentric and lonely.

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rareynolds | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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Silas Marner was a weaver. Weavers were significant in England because the advent of the power loom at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution is representative of the transformation the rise of factory work had on the English working class. Hand-loom weavers, like Silas, were replaced by factory workers, and the skill Silas is famous for in his village has become irrelevant – in factory work, machine operators only need to keep the machines running; they don’t need to know anything about weaving itself. In more than one case, hand loom weavers revolted against factory owners (Charlotte Bronte's novel Shirley tells the story of one such revolt).

All of this forms a backdrop to Eliot’s novel, which foregrounds the social changes wrought by the Industrial Revolution by alluding to fairytales (e.g., there is a lot of Rumplestiltskin in Silas; Silas is also a weaver, who is able to spin flax into gold). What happens to Silas – the theft of his money, and his finding the abandoned child, his near-sightedness – can be seen as equivalences to plot points in the Rumplestiltskin story, but also as commentary on real social ills. In a sense, Marner’s story is like the retelling of a fairy tale gone hopelessly wrong; to the extent that we can see Silas as a stand-in for pre-industrial England, his story also comes to be about England's "loss of innocence," the loss of the old way of life in the village, and the rise of the industrial age.

susan127's profile pic

susan127 | In Training Educator

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Silas Marner was a linen-weaver who wove flaxen thread into cloth called linen.  He used a portable wooden loom that was powered by foot treddles.  Silas was from a northern town where his artisan trade was becoming obsolete through the advent of the power loom in the early 19th century.  Although linen-weavers were among suspicious providers such as peddlers and knife-grinders, Silas was able to establish his necessity with the women of Raveloe.  Both the rich and poor women hired Mr. Marner to weave their cloth from either their own spun threads or from threads and twines purchased in the village. Because the quality of his work could not be disputed, the women set aside their suspicions of him.

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