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...

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?" 

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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. 

 

Lynn Ramsson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Eliot uses a Biblical allusion here to emphasize her point about the so-called ties that bind people to one another. In this case, the tie between Silas and Eppie is compared to the tie between "an affectionate Goliath" and the smaller, weaker object of Goliath's affection.

In the first Book of Samuel, the reader finds the story of David and Goliath. With the Lord's support, David, a young boy, defeats the giant Goliath in an unlikely victory. David is small but clever, and he has right on his side; Goliath, on the other hand, is large and intimidating, but he loses to the power of goodness.

In this passage from Silas Marner, Silas can be identified as the Goliath figure. He is larger than the baby Eppie and much more physically powerful, but the baby Eppie has the might of the love she inspires in Silas. Therefore, the passage suggests that Eppie, "the small tender thing," is "the master" of Silas; he is tied to her by the love he feels, and in his reluctance to hurt her and risk "snap[ping] the cord" that ties them together, he will allow her to be David and overpower him.