Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1125
Although there are tragedies in Silas Marner (the death of Molly Cass, for example), the narrative emphasizes the moral order of the universe. The principal characters get their just desserts. Silas Marner is rewarded for the love he shows Eppie; Dunsey never lives to profit from his robbery; and Godfrey Cass, because of his deceitfulness and moral cowardice, can never publicly acknowledge that Eppie is his daughter. This moral order is at work through seemingly chance events. It seems to be chance, for example, that Marner happens to be away from his cottage on a short errand and has left his door unlocked (which he would never normally do) at the exact moment that Dunsey is walking by, thus giving Dunsey a chance to rob him. It also seems to be a chance event when Molly Cass collapses near Marner’s cottage and Eppie wanders inside. The door to the cottage is once again open and Marner is in one of his strange trances, so he does not notice the girl until she is asleep on his hearth.
But there is more at work than chance. Almost as soon as he sees the child, Marner senses that some supernatural order is operating in his life, and he later thinks that the child must have been deliberately sent to him. Dolly Winthrop agrees with him, although neither offers any explanation as to who or what this benevolent power might be. Later, after Marner has explained his past life to Dolly, she struggles to articulate her intuitive feeling that there is a higher power that arranges everything for the best: “For if us as knows so little can see a bit o’ good and rights, we may be sure as there’s a good and a rights bigger nor what we can know.”
The Need for Human Community
The novel presents pictures of two poles of human existence, isolation and community. For fifteen years Marner retreats into a solitude that denies life. He is redeemed only when events conspire to make him rejoin a human community.
In his years of isolation at Raveloe, cut off from the real springs of life, Marner makes the mistake of treating inert things as if they were alive. His delight in his gold is so great that it even gratifies his senses of touch and sight: “It was pleasant to feel them [the guineas] in his palm”; he enjoys looking at their “bright faces”; they offer him “companionship,” and as he “bathed his hands” in them he “felt their rounded outline between his thumb and fingers.” He even begins to think that the gold is conscious of him, as he believes his loom is. And Marner’s life, with its ceaseless, monotonous, repetitive activity, has come to resemble the actions of the loom. His constant bending over his loom has also deformed him physically, making him curiously fitted to it, like a “handle or a crooked tube” that has no independent existence apart from what it is attached to. In his attachment to a machine, Marner has cut himself off from nature. He forgets all about his former interest in herbs and his skill in using them for healing. When he walks through the lanes on a work-related trip, he thinks only of his money and his loom. The life of nature goes on around him unobserved. As a miser, he has given to inanimate things a spurious life and forgotten what real life is. His own life has become “a mere pulsation of desire and satisfaction that had no relation to any other being.”
The loss of his money is a blessing in disguise for Marner because it breaks his attachment to things that have no life. It also reveals that the human spirit within him is not quite dead. He has a dim sense that if any help is to reach him, it must come from outside. This is why, when the villagers become more sympathetic to him, “there was a slight stirring of expectation at the sight of his fellow-men, a faint consciousness of dependence on their goodwill.” This faint channel of hope is symbolized by the fact that at Christmas, Marner, even though he is still full of grief, does not make any attempt to close the shutters or lock the door of his cottage. Moreover, he develops a habit of opening his door and looking out from time to time. He does this not because he is consciously inviting companionship, but because he has some irrational hope that his money will somehow be returned. But it is this habit of leaving his door open that allows the child to come into his life. It is a sign that he has begun his journey back from isolation to community.
The arrival of Eppie has an immediate effect on Marner. When he first sees the child, he thinks it may be his little sister, come back in a dream. He remembers how he carried his sister around in his arms for a year until she died. By recalling a tender time of childhood that he had closed off from memory, Silas begins the process of reconnecting with his past. The process continues when he tells Dolly Winthrop all the details of his early life. Through this process his fractured psyche starts to become whole again. And with Eppie taking his thoughts away from their endless circularity into a more outward direction, Marner is at last ready to become integrated into the community life of Raveloe.
Just as Marner is a case study in isolation, Raveloe is presented as an example of community. There are two centers of community in Raveloe: the Squire’s Red House, which is generous in giving out food to the poor and hosts the New Year’s Eve dance, and the Rainbow inn, where the villagers gather round the hearth to tell their stories. The inhabitants of Raveloe may not be perfect, but they are fairly easy going and do not make a habit of applying moral censure to others. Although the village is strictly divided along class lines, there is no envy of the rich by the poor. It is a community in which everyone knows his or her place, and a spirit of cooperation and tolerance is the norm. This is shown especially vividly when the men in the Rainbow immediately do everything they can to help Marner, a man they all regard as rather strange, when he informs them that he has been robbed. The villagers all know that they are dependent on each other, and when Marner also realizes this, he is ready to play his part in a wider community, instead of foolishly trying to be self-sufficient.
Unlock This Study Guide Now
Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.
- 30,000+ book summaries
- 20% study tools discount
- Ad-free content
- PDF downloads
- 300,000+ answers
- 5-star customer support