Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
In Silas Marner, George Eliot achieved some of her most successful symbolic narrative, a method that has been compared to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s definition of “romance” with reference to this story. In this novel, Eliot’s pervasive theme of spiritual renewal through the influence of human love and communal fellowship is embodied, as elsewhere, in realistic events, drama, and dialogue, with currents of symbolic meanings that suggest a mythic structure of concrete universals. Eliot called the story a “legendary tale” with a “realistic treatment.”
The theme of spiritual rebirth is announced in chapter 1 by reference to Marner as “a dead man come to life again” and to his “inward life” as a “metamorphosis.” The resolution is foreshadowed in the description of his catalepsy as “a mysterious rigidity and suspension of consciousness” that his former religious community has “mistaken for death.” The rigidity of despair has driven him from his former home in a northern industrial city, the dimly lit Lantern Yard, where members of his “narrow religious sect” have believed him guilty of stealing church funds in the keeping of a dying man. Marner has been so stunned at being framed by the man he thought was his best friend, at being renounced by his fiancé, who soon married the guilty man, and at being believed guilty by his community, that he could only flee. Because he had believed that God would defend his...
(The entire section is 590 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Silas Marner, the linen weaver, lives in the small community of Raveloe. Long years at his spinning wheel leave Silas extremely nearsighted so that his vision is limited to only those objects that are very bright or very close to him. Because of an unjust accusation of theft, Silas left his former home at Lantern Yard and became a recluse. For fifteen years, the lonely, shriveled man lives for no purpose but to hoard the money he receives in payment for his weaving. Night after night, he takes his golden hoard from its hiding place in the floor of his cottage and lets the shining pieces run through his fingers.
The leading man in Raveloe is Squire Cass, who has one fine son, Godfrey, and one wastrel son, Dunstan. It is said that Godfrey will marry Nancy Lammeter. Godfrey, however, becomes involved in Dunstan’s gambling debts. He lends his spendthrift brother some of the squire’s rent money, which Dunstan loses in gambling. Since neither brother can raise the money, they decide that Dunstan must sell Godfrey’s favorite horse, Wildfire, at a nearby fair. Godfrey’s one fear is that this affair will harm his reputation in the neighborhood and his chance with Nancy. Another thing that weighs on Godfrey’s conscience and prevents his declaration to Nancy is the fact that he is already married. Once he was drunk in a tavern in a distant hamlet, and in that condition he married a woman of the lower class. Sober, he fled back to Raveloe and kept his marriage a secret.
Dunstan rides Wildfire across the fog-dimmed fields and cripples the animal on a high jump. With no means of raising the money, half-drunk and fear-driven, Dunstan comes to Silas’s cottage. He knows through the neighborhood gossip that the weaver has a hidden hoard of gold. The cottage is empty, and instinct soon leads the drunken youth to the hiding place of the gold. Stealing out of the cabin with his prize and stumbling through the night, Dunstan falls into an abandoned quarry pit and dies.
The robbery of Silas’s cottage furnishes gossip for the entire community. Another mystery is the disappearance of Dunstan. Godfrey is forced now to tell his father about the rent money he gave Dunstan and about the loss...
(The entire section is 904 words.)