How does Eliot use the ant metaphor in Chapter 10 of Silas Marner?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

After Silas Marner is robbed, he is "mushed," as the townspeople say. That is, Marner is absolutely devastated as the gold was all that motivated him throughout his day. When he goes to the inn in Raveloe to report the theft, Silas is suspected at first, but later people believe him and begin to feel sympathy for the man.  Marner's initial entry into the communion of the townspeople begins a new growth in him that he does not feel; however, as Eliot writes,

Our consciousness rarely registers the beginning of a growth within us any more than without us: there have been many circulations of the sap before we detect the smallest sign of the bud.

This use of nature metaphors such as the awakening feelings that are likened to the bud on a plant is prevalent in Silas Marner. For instance, in Chapter 10, still numb from the robbery,  Marner feels a "withering desolation" after having lost his purpose for working and living. Now

...the fence was broken down--the support was snatched away.

With his thoughts no longer centered upon his gold, in another nature metaphor, Marner finds his thoughts

...baffled by the blank like that which meets a plodding ant when the earth has broken away on its homeward path.

Like the ant whose path has gone from him, Marner has nothing to keep him working; he has no goal to anticipate. Before, when his gold rested in the hole of his cottage, Silas Marner knew why he worked--to amass money; now he finds himself lost, without no direction to life: 

the evening had no phantasm of delight to still the poor soul's craving

Hope is crushed in Marner that he can amass another fortune, just as the ant who no longer has a path to his hill where his community thrives has no hope of reaching this mound.