What does Eliot mean in Silas Marner in this passage?
"Let even an affectionate Goliath get himself tied to a small tender thing, dreading to hurt it by pulling and dreading still more to snap the cord, and which of the two, pray, will be master?"
This passage is extracted from Chapter XV of Silas Marner; in this chapter the kind-hearted and generous Dolly Winthrop lends Silas some clothes for the little baby whom he has claimed as his own. Further, she urges Silas to have the girl christened, and Silas complies, naming the child after his sister Hepzibah, shortened to Eppie. Dolly also gives Silas instructions on raising the child, urging him to discipline her when needed.
"But I put it upo' your conscience, Master Marner, as there's one of 'em you get so masterful, there'll be no holding her."
Although he understands the import of her words, Silas
trembled at a moment's contention with her, lest she should love him the less for it.
Then, Eliot writes of the power of love over even a "Goliath." For, the strong are weakened by the fear that the object of their love should reject them--"snap the cord." And, thus, the baby can wield more power over Silas than he can her. For, little Eppie has brought him into a new world, a world of joy and community. Through her eyes and "gurgling triumph" in nature, Silas has found a place in Raveloe and is no longer "dealt with in a propitiatory way" but is welcomed into homes with smiling faces. Because of Eppie, he is no longer alienated and alone; he has reason to live and experience and share joy.