Can you identify instances of humor and irony in Silas Marner?

Quick answer:

Some instances of irony in George Eliot's Silas Marner include the reaction of the Raveloe ladies to Silas Marner, the debt of the two rich young men, and Silas's stolen gold being on his property the whole time. Humor in the novel lies in the irony but also in the interactions of the Raveloe people and the mischief of Eppie.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

George Eliot's novel Silas Marner is a somewhat sad tale of a lonely man and a pair of brothers who share some dark secrets, yet Eliot interweaves both irony and humor into the story. Let's look at some examples of both.

The irony in this novel is largely situational. Events lead to unexpected outcomes. For instance, the young ladies of Raveloe are thrilled when the bachelor Silas Marner moves into their midst. But Silas pays them no notice, and the ladies are annoyed and insulted. They soon declare that they would not ever marry him. Herein lies the irony. These ladies who were once so excited do not get what they expect, so they change their opinions to match their disappointment, convincing themselves that they don't want this dull man at all.

Other ironies appear as Silas cures a local woman through his knowledge of herbs and is accused of being a witch doctor. In another instance, the sons of the wealthiest family in town deal with the reality of debt. There is also significant irony in the fact that Silas becomes the victim of a crime he was once falsely accused of, namely, stealing. Dunstan steals Silas's beloved gold, yet later Silas obtains something much more precious than gold—his adopted daughter Eppie—and he gets his gold back, too. Ironically, it never left his own property. The dead Dunstan and the gold are both discovered in the pit behind Silas's cottage.

Much of the story's humor lies in its irony. We cannot help but chuckle, for instance, at the actions of the young ladies or even at Silas's cured miserliness. Eliot also includes humorous instances as when the Raveloe folks debate their constable situation or as the young Eppie carries out all kinds of mischief, including trying to use her own little boot as a water bucket.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What are three instances of humor in Silas Marner?

Eliot's use of humor in Silas Marner is connected to her keen sense of place and characterization. Silas Marner is set in a simpler time; the story of Silas's stolen gold and his eventual redemption through love has a distinct fairytale quality to it. Much of the humor has to do with Eliot's tongue-in-cheek portrayal of village life and the simple nature of the villagers.

Eppie's adventure into the fields, along with Silas's mission to find her, is comic. Eppie herself is a kind of comic foil for Silas, who in some respects is a child himself. Silas's decision to "punish" Eppie is funny because we are meant to laugh at Silas's naivete and because Eppie, though a toddler, always gets the best of Silas. She actually enjoys her punishment of being put in the coal hole!

Another comic episode occurs after Silas has discovered that his gold has been stolen in the ridiculous debate that happens among the men about who among them should go to fetch the constable and how that act would in effect make them a "deputy constable." Here, the humor has to do with the backwardness of the men. When the farrier nominates himself to go, he is met with opposition from Mr. Macey, who asserts that doctors can't be constables and that, as someone who looks after horses, the farrier is a kind of doctor!

A third humorous moment occurs at the Rainbow Inn when the existence of ghosts is debated. Eliot's treatment of this argument is of a piece with her depiction of the locals as simple, colorful characters. The landlord's argument, for instance, that seeing ghosts is like smelling cheese—the fact that his wife can't smell cheese doesn't mean that there is no cheese—is given in a serious tone that makes it all the more funny.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on