Silas Marner was a weaver. Weavers were significant in England because the advent of the power loom at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution is representative of the transformation the rise of factory work had on the English working class. Hand-loom weavers, like Silas, were replaced by factory workers, and the skill Silas is famous for in his village has become irrelevant – in factory work, machine operators only need to keep the machines running; they don’t need to know anything about weaving itself. In more than one case, hand loom weavers revolted against factory owners (Charlotte Bronte's novel Shirley tells the story of one such revolt).
All of this forms a backdrop to Eliot’s novel, which foregrounds the social changes wrought by the Industrial Revolution by alluding to fairytales (e.g., there is a lot of Rumplestiltskin in Silas; Silas is also a weaver, who is able to spin flax into gold). What happens to Silas – the theft of his money, and his finding the abandoned child, his near-sightedness – can be seen as equivalences to plot points in the Rumplestiltskin story, but also as commentary on real social ills. In a sense, Marner’s story is like the retelling of a fairy tale gone hopelessly wrong; to the extent that we can see Silas as a stand-in for pre-industrial England, his story also comes to be about England's "loss of innocence," the loss of the old way of life in the village, and the rise of the industrial age.