How does Eliot present the effects of ‘class’ in the community in Chapter 11 at the New Year’s Eve dance at The Red House in Silas Marner?
The Red House is an obvious symbol of class difference in Silas Marner. Godfrey is the victim of class because he marries a woman of lower class and then cannot marry the woman he wants.
There are several “landed parishioners” but only one Squire. The title of Squire is an important one, and seems to have been granted because he has tenants on the land and is therefore just a little bit richer.
THE GREATEST MAN in Raveloe was Squire Cass, who lived in the large red house with the handsome flight of stone steps in front and the high stables behind it, nearly opposite the church. (ch 3)
The squire’s house is considered somewhat inferior socially, but only because Mrs. Cass died and that left no woman in charge. The finest things were to be found there.
Social class is also represented by certain professions.
Mrs. Kimble was the Squire's sister, as well as the doctor's wife,—a double dignity, with which her diameter was in direct proportion (ch 11)
Interestingly enough, although all of the people in Raveloe are aware of class and who is in what class, being of a higher class does not automatically grant happiness. In fact, it often seems as though the higher you go up in class in the novel the more miserable you become.
Miss Nancy is described as having everything at the height of fashion.
…the Miss Gunns could see nothing to criticise except her hands, which bore the traces of butter making, cheese crushing, and even still coarser work. But Miss Nancy was not ashamed of that… (ch 11)
Godfrey wants to marry Nancy. Miss Nancy has all the “attributes of a lady” even though she is uneducated. She does not know that Godfrey is already married secretly. If anyone finds out, he will be disowned. On New Year’s Ever his wife Molly attempts to go to the Red House, the symbol of the upper class, but she does not make it. She is addicted to opium, a symbol of the lower classes, and when she dies her child falls to Silas.
Eppie lives a happy life with Silas. Even though she would be of a higher class with Godfrey and Nancy, she wants to remain with Silas. This demonstrates that class is not everything to everyone in Raveloe. Class and power are not the same thing. Godfrey has the appropriate social class, but is powerless against his lower-class wife, because she keeps his secret only until she decides not to.
Even after Molly dies, Godfrey is a victim to the choice he made to marry below his class. He still has a child he cannot claim, and since Nancy does not know who the child is she rejects the idea of adopting her at first, until Godfrey reveals that he was married to her mother at one time.