Part I, Chapters 9–10
Summary: Chapter 9
[Godfrey] was not likely to be very penetrating in his judgments, but he had always had a sense that his father’s indulgence had not been kindness, and had had a vague longing for some discipline that would have checked his own errant weakness and helped his better will.
Godfrey takes his own breakfast early and waits for Squire Cass to eat and take his morning walk before speaking with him. Godfrey tells his father about Wildfire and about how he gave the rent money to Dunsey. His father flies into one of his rages and asks why Godfrey stole from him and lied to him for Dunsey’s sake. When Godfrey is evasive, the Squire comes close to guessing the truth. The Squire goes on and on, blaming his current financial troubles on the overindulgence of his sons. Godfrey insists that he has always been willing to help with the management of his father’s estate, but the Squire changes the subject, complaining about Godfrey’s waffling over whether to marry Nancy Lammeter. The Squire offers to propose for Godfrey, but Godfrey is again evasive and refuses the offer. Afterward, Godfrey is not sure whether to be grateful that nothing seems to have changed or uneasy that he has had to tell more half-truths. Though Godfrey worries that his father might push his hand and force him to refuse Nancy, as usual, he merely places his trust in “Favourable Chance,” hoping that some unforeseen event will rescue him from his predicament.
Summary: Chapter 10
Weeks pass with no new evidence about the robbery and no sign of Dunsey. No one connects Dunsey’s disappearance with the theft, however, and the peddler remains the primary suspect, though some still insist that an inexplicable otherworldly force is responsible. Silas is still inconsolable, and passes the days weaving joylessly. Without his money, his life feels empty and purposeless. He earns the pity of the villagers, who now think of him as helpless rather than dangerous. They bring Silas food, call on him to offer condolences, and try to help him get over his loss. These efforts are only mildly successful. Mr. Macey subjects Silas to a long and discursive speech about coming to church, among other things, but gets little reaction and leaves more perplexed by Silas than before.
Another visitor is Dolly Winthrop, the wheelwright’s wife, a selfless and patient woman. Dolly brings her son Aaron and some of her famed lard-cakes. She encourages Silas to attend church, particularly since it is Christmastime. When she asks if he has ever been to church, Silas responds that he has not; he has only been to chapel. Dolly does not understand the distinction Silas is making—nor, in any significant way, does Silas. Wanting to show his gratitude for the visit, all Silas can think to do is offer Aaron a bit of lard-cake. Aaron is frightened of Silas, but Dolly coaxes him into singing a Christmas carol. Despite his gratitude, Silas is relieved after the two have left and he is alone to weave and mourn the loss of his money.
Silas does not go to church on Christmas Day, but almost everyone else in town does. The Casses hold a family Christmas party that night, and invite the Kimbles, Godfrey’s aunt and uncle. All evening Godfrey looks forward longingly to the Squire’s famed New Year’s dance and the chance to be with Nancy. The prospect of Dunsey’s return looms over Godfrey, but he tries to ignore it.
Analysis: Part I, Chapters 9–10
Though Eliot has already described Squire Cass’s parties, house, and temper tantrums, Godfrey’s confrontation with his father is the first time we actually encounter the “greatest man in Raveloe.” He is not, we soon discover, “great” in any real sense. The Squire is complacent, lazy, arrogant, and not particularly bright, having spent his life—merely by good fortune of birth—as the biggest fish in a very small pond. He does not have as much money as he once did and has spoiled his sons—not, it seems, out of affection, but simply out of neglect. The Squire is the only role model Godfrey has had while growing up, and Godfrey’s shortcomings can be seen as stemming at least in part from his father’s.
Chapter 10 returns us to Silas’s domestic existence, and we see that he is overwhelmed by the void the robbery has left in his life. Though his life before the theft might have appeared empty and sad, it was nonetheless “an eager life, filled with immediate purpose that fenced him in from the wide, cheerless unknown.” Likewise, though Silas’s money was, according to the narrator, a “dead disrupted thing,” it nonetheless had given him purpose in life and satisfied his need for connection and meaning. Now, however, Silas is broken and utterly defenseless in the face of an outside world that he long ago rejected as corrupt and uncaring. Once again, his most valued possession has been taken from him.
Like her earlier comparison of Silas to a budding plant, Eliot’s imagery in this chapter gives us hope for Silas’s recovery. The progression of imagery Eliot uses is largely drawn from nature. Silas initially clings to his money as to the roots of a plant, and now is confused like “a plodding ant when the earth has broken away on its homeward path.” Finally, Eliot foreshadows a metaphor she uses later: Silas is “still the shrunken rivulet, with only this difference, that its little groove of sand was blocked up, and it wandered confusedly against dark obstruction.” The three phenomena to which Silas is compared in these metaphors share a common aspect of recovery and self-righting. The roots of the plant will regrow in new soil, the ant will find its way, and the dammed stream will rise with water until it flows over its obstruction.
Dolly Winthrop provides a simple, compelling portrait of religious faith. Like the philosophical fumblings of the Rainbow’s denizens, the “simple Raveloe theology” that Dolly professes to Silas is something at which a seminarian might scoff. Dolly is illiterate and thus does not even understand the words of some of the Christmas carols she so loves. Nonetheless, Dolly’s description of her faith is eloquent in its own way. By placing her faith in “Them as are above us” while at the same time demanding that “we’n done our part,” Dolly holds to a distinctly community-oriented faith. For Dolly, faith in God provides not only an incentive to do good works herself, but also a trust that others in the community will do their part.
Dolly’s beliefs contrast markedly with the “Favourable Chance” relied upon by Godfrey and other men “who follow their own devices instead of obeying a law they believe in.” In Dolly’s Christianity, the requirement of action goes a long way toward fulfilling the expectations of faith. Godfrey’s faith, while perhaps more sophisticated than Dolly’s, seems far more futile.
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