Who was Sarah in Silas Marner? Why did she reject Silas and marry William Dane? What inference do you draw about her?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Sarah is a very minor character in George Eliot's novel Silas Marner. She was the fiancee of Silas when he lived in the small town of Lantern Yard, a town dominated by a very strict religious sect. Sarah rejected Silas and married William Dane, but there were two considerations that may have entered into her decision:

  1. She was rather frightened and disturbed by Silas's reaction at one of the prayer meetings when he became unconscious and lay rigid for more than an hour. While some of his fellow sect members felt that this reaction was divinely inspired, William Dane, Silas's friend, who was purportedly a devout young man, made the suggestion that the Devil may have visited Silas at that paralyzing moment.
    Having been informed of what occurred, the troubled Silas asked her if she wished to call off their wedding. But, while Sarah seemed to desire to do so, she refused the offer. Later, however, she may have been influenced by William Dane since she did marry him after Silas was expelled from Lantern Yard.
  2. Silas was accused of stealing money from the room of the deacon, over whom Silas kept vigil. He had fallen asleep and woke to find the poor deacon had died; also, his knife was missing. Later, this knife appeared in a bureau where the money had been stored; worse than this, the empty money bag was retrieved from the dwelling of Silas Marner. Silas thought that God would prove him innocent; however, when the church members drew lots, Silas was found guilty and expelled from the sect and Lantern Yard.
    Sarah called off the engagement and Silas swore that the last time the knife was seen by him it was there when William Dane also was present. Despairing and angered, Silas renounced his faith.

It would seem that William Dane's conduct was suspicious. He first cast aspersions upon Silas after his paralysis; then, when Silas was asleep, he stole the money and arranged for Silas to appear guilty. After the second suspicion of Silas's behavior and character, the vulnerable and impressionable Sarah was easily influenced by Dane, who probably came to her as a protector and friend, offering to take care of her and keep her from the devilish Silas Marner, who wickedly denounced his faith.

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