In chapter 6 of Silas Marner, how does Eliot present the community of Raveloe from their speech and topics of conversation in the Rainbow?

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

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The way that Eliot describes the dynamics of the people of Raveloe as they meet in their "public house", the Rainbow, denotes a subtle division of classes and characters even within the parameters of a small town.

First, we see how at the beginning, when alcohol has still not "eased out" the personal boundaries of the people, Eliot tells us of the patterns that often take place. Those with higher ranking within the community automatically stand by the fireplace smoking their pipes and assuming an air of "gravity", while it is assumed that the rest of the townsfolk stand around talking, while understanding that such division of rank and distinction is a natural behavior within the community.

Immediately after, Eliot describes with great detail how the common conversation begins with a short discussion between the butcher and the farrier over a cow, and then it switches to Mr. Macey's repetitive story about a parson's bungle. It then moves to a ghost story that was commonly known but the farrier did not believe. All the conversation seems to be monitored and controlled by the landlord of the Rainbow, who is the starter and the referee for all the discussion that take place.

“Ay, but there's this in it, Dowlas,” said the landlord, speaking in a tone of much candor and tolerance. “There's folks, i' my opinion, they can't see ghos'es, not if they stood as plain as a pike staff before 'em. And there's reason i' that. For there's my wife, now, can't smell, not if she'd the strongest o' cheese under her nose. I never see'd a ghost myself; but then I says to myself, ‘Very like I haven't got the smell for 'em.’

All of this is a preamble to the unexpected entrance of a very psychologically disturbed Silas Marner.

Keep in mind that the reason for this detailed depiction of the dynamics at the public house is to represent the heart and soul of Raveloe. These are the voices of the people that Silas continuously denied himself from listening; the farrier, the butcher, the landlord of the Rainbown, Mr. Macey- all of these are the typical characters that build the personality of Raveloe and color it with its unique town hue.

The fact that Silas enters that very place is metaphorical; a man who isolates himself for the purpose of never becoming hurt by people suddenly finds himself in need OF the people whom he denied himself to meet because of the innate necessity of all human beings to make connections. In this case, Silas's need to connect was a result of his helplessness. Not only was he left with nothing after his theft, but every single defense mechanism that he had built to protect himself from pain became null; as a result, he has no choice but to raise his arms and beg, even if it is just for commiseration.

This is the reason why Eliot makes the characters so eloquent; this Rainbow scene is a stamp, or a photograph if you will, of life in a small town.

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