In chapter 1 of George Eliot's Silas Marner, we learn how the sad weaver of Raveloe came to be. Some salient facts are the following:
- Silas lived a full, healthy life in the nearby town of Lantern Yard.
- There, he thrived as a member of a gnostic community of religious worshippers who were notorious for their spastic spells.
- Out of all the worshippers, Silas seemed to have the most spastic spells of them all
- This rendered him strange in the eyes of many, even his own fiancée and his best friend, William Dane- we can assume it was either jealousy of Silas's popularity in the cult, or real fear and wonder about his mental state.
- Silas is wrongfully accused, by his best friend, of stealing from the cult.
- This disgraces Silas, who loses his fiancée to his best friend, and has to leave town to start over somewhere else.
- As a result, he lands in Raveloe a bittern, lonely, angry, and desolate man. All that he plans to do is be there, work on his loom, make money, and live in isolation.
Now, Silas is physically awkward, to match his strange personality. He is picked on by the kids of his new hometown for this very reason. Moreover, he also has a strange knack for herbal remedies. All of these descriptors make Silas into quite the enigmatic figure.
The case of Sally Oates represents the first time that Silas has contact with the outside world in a manner other than as the town's weaver. Since he keeps to himself, nobody really knows much about the man, but much is speculated. However, Sally Oates's case is one of those town legends that made Silas all the more strange.
Jem Rodney's story was no more than what might have been expected by anybody who had seen how Marner had cured Sally Oates, and made her sleep like a baby, when her heart had been beating enough to burst her body for two months and more, while she had been under the doctor's care.
This gained Silas a newfound popularity among people who sought him out for cures, even if it is against his will. We are not told directly how Silas feels, but through indirect characterization we can conclude that Silas felt a sense of connection toward Sally. She had a similar reputation as his in Raveloe, where people awarded her special and keen powers. Moreover, he did this knowing that the doctor would not do his work properly. In the end, it is said that this was a movement of "pity" from Silas toward the woman. By "pity" it does not mean "condescending" but a feeling of "empathy" toward her.
Thus it came to pass that his movement of pity towards Sally Oates, which had given him a transient sense of brotherhood, heightened the repulsion between him and his neighbors, and made his isolation more complete...