Part I, Chapters 5–6
Summary: Chapter 5
Silas returns to his cottage, thinking nothing of the unlocked door because he has never been robbed before. He is looking forward to the roast pork, a gift from a customer, which he left cooking while he was running an errand. Noticing nothing out of the ordinary, Silas sits down before his fire. He cannot wait to pull his money out, and decides to lay it on the table as he eats.
Silas removes the bricks and finds the hole under the floorboards empty. He frantically searches the cottage for his gold, desperately hoping that he might have decided to store it someplace else for the night. He eventually realizes that the gold is gone, and he screams in anguish. Silas then tries to think of what could have happened. He initially fears that a greater power removed the money to ruin him a second time, but banishes that thought in favor of the simpler explanation of a robbery. He mentally runs through a list of his neighbors and decides that Jem Rodney, a well-known poacher, might have taken the gold.
Silas decides to declare his loss to the important people of the town, including Squire Cass, in the hopes that they might be able to help recover his money. Silas goes to the Rainbow, the village inn and tavern, to find someone of authority. However, the more prominent citizens of Raveloe are all at the birthday dance we saw Godfrey anticipating earlier, so Silas finds only the “less lofty customers” at the tavern. The Rainbow has two rooms, separating patrons according to their social standing. The parlor, frequented by Squire Cass and others of “select society,” is empty. The few hangers-on who are normally permitted into the parlor to enlarge “the opportunity of hectoring and condescension for their betters” are instead taking the better seats in the bar across the hall, to hector and condescend to their inferiors in turn.
Summary: Chapter 6
The conversation in the tavern is quite animated by the time Silas arrives, though it has taken a while to get up to speed. The narrator describes this conversation in considerable detail. It begins with an aimless argument about a cow, followed by a story from Mr. Macey about a time when he heard the parson bungle the words of a wedding vow, a story that everyone in the tavern has heard many times before. Macey says that the parson’s lapse set him thinking about whether the wedding was therefore invalid and, if not, just what it was that gave weddings meaning in the first place. Just before Silas appears, the conversation lapses back into an argument, this time about the existence of a ghost who allegedly haunts a local stable. The argumentative farrier, Mr. Dowlas, does not believe in the ghost, and offers to stand out in front of the stable all night, betting that he will not see the ghost. He gets no takers, as the Rainbow’s landlord, Mr. Snell, argues that some people are just unable to see ghosts.
Analysis: Part I, Chapters 5–6
The theft of Silas’s gold forces him to involve himself in the life of the town. This is the second theft we have encountered so far in the novel. The original theft, which drove Silas out of Lantern Yard, made him an outcast from his tight-knit community and deprived him of any faith except in money. The second theft, Dunsey’s, eventually reverses both of these effects. Eliot writes that Silas’s gold had “gathered his power of loving together into a hard isolation like its own.” Its loss makes Silas venture out into the community to ask for help.
The conversation Silas interrupts in the tavern provides Eliot with an opportunity to show a slice of life of the Raveloe community. Almost all of the action thus far in the novel has taken place in the private sphere, within characters’ homes. The tavern provides a public counterpart. The Rainbow is the primary meeting place for Raveloe’s men, where members of all of the town’s social classes meet and mingle. Unlike church, the other significant public space in the town, the tavern is a participatory atmosphere. Everyone is invited to chime in to the arguments and stories. There is, however, a strict hierarchy that is encoded in the interactions we see at the Rainbow. The higher-class patrons order spirits-and-water to drink, the lower-class patrons beer. The higher-class patrons sit near the fire, the lower-class farther away. Even the two rooms of the inn itself are arranged to separate social classes.
The evening’s conversation provides examples of the often superstitious beliefs that bind its participants together. In describing the conversation in such painstaking detail, Eliot furnishes not only a vivid rendering of the dialect of the lower class, but also a portrait of their beliefs. The topics of conversation are trivial and the participants are made to seem slightly ridiculous. However, they do occasionally touch on important ideas. Mr. Macey’s story concerns the importance of language, and Mr. Snell’s point about some people’s inability to see ghosts touches on the subjectivity of experience. In simultaneously making light of the denizens of the Rainbow and showing that they possess a certain unschooled curiosity, Eliot tempers her authorial condescension and shows her subjects as limited in certain ways, but nevertheless complex and worthy of attention.
The conversation, however, is a ritual to stave off boredom as much as it is a forum for exchanging beliefs. Like Silas’s weaving and the Cass family’s hunting and riding, these nightly gatherings at the Rainbow are repetitive. Mr. Macey has told the same story to the same audience many times before. Though this boredom and ritual seem meaningless, they are an integral part of the rural life Eliot presents. These gatherings form the texture of their participants’ daily life, a life that is punctuated only occasionally by noteworthy events.
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