George Eliot's narrative describes a time before the spinning jenny of the Industrial Revolution replaced individual weavers. In fact, the weaver was an important citizen of communities as it was he who provided people with the necessary thread. Nevertheless, weaving was a singular and lonely business.
In the little religious community of Lantern, Yard Silas Marner was well-respected: "He was believed to be a young man of exemplary life and ardent faith." When he fell into a spiritual trance one time in a religious meeting, Marner would not interpret it in any way. In contrast, his friend William Dane assuredly declares that he perceives words "call and election sure" on the pages of the Bible. Whereas Silas is honest about his uncertainty, Dane exhibits the utmost confidence, and he suggests that the devil has visited Silas when he was in this trance. Because of this suggestion, the rigid and backward religious community becomes suspicious of him when his supposed friend William Dane and some others accuse Marner of having killed the ailing deacon over whom he kept vigil one night. When his knife is found near the deacon's bed, at the same spot where the money bag had been, suspicion of Silas is certainly aroused. The minister urges Silas to confess and repent his sin since his knife has been discovered in the very spot where the deacon kept his little bag of church money. He adds that since Silas was the only one there, who else could have committed this crime?
For some time Silas was mute with astonishment; then he said, “God will clear me; I know nothing about the knife being there or the money being gone. Search me and my dwelling; you will find nothing but three pound five of my own savings, which William Dane knows I have had these six months.”
But Silas is denounced as guilty of the crime. He is suspended from membership in the church and told that he must confess and only when he is repentant will he be allowed to rejoin the fold. Silas moves toward the man he has considered his friend and says that the last time he remembers using the knife was to cut a strap for William and he knows that he did not place it back in his pocket. He accuses William,
"You stole the money and you have woven a plot to lay the sin at my door....there is no just God that governs the earth righteously, but a God of lies, that bears witness against the innocent."
After uttering this "blasphemy" Silas returns home to his loom and works on it until the minister and deacons come to his door to inform him that his betrothed has broken their engagement; Silas makes no comment, but only continues weaving. In a month or so Sarah marries William Dane, and Silas Marner, a man without faith, departs from the town.