Part II, Chapters 19–21, Conclusion
Summary: Chapter 19
Eppie and Silas sit in their cottage later that evening. Silas has sent Dolly and Aaron Winthrop away, desiring solitude with his daughter after the excitement of the afternoon’s discovery. Silas muses about the return of his money and reconsiders the events that have passed since he lost it. He tells Eppie how he initially hoped she might somehow turn back into the gold, but later grew fearful of that that prospect because he loved her more than the money. Silas tells Eppie how much he loves her, and says the money has simply been “kept till it was wanted for you.” She responds that if not for Silas, she would have been sent to the workhouse.
Someone knocks at the door, and Eppie opens it to find Godfrey and Nancy Cass. Godfrey tells Silas that he wants to make up to Silas not only for what Dunsey did, but also for another debt he owes to the weaver. Godfrey tells Silas that the money is not enough for him to live on without continuing to work. Silas, however, argues that though it might seem like a very small sum to a gentleman, it is more money than many other working people have. Godfrey says that Eppie does not look like she was born for a working life and that she would do better living in a place like his home. Silas becomes uneasy.
Godfrey explains that since they have no children, they would like Eppie to come live with them as their daughter. He assumes that Silas would like to see Eppie in such an advantageous position, and promises that Silas will be provided for himself. Eppie sees that Silas is distressed, though Silas tells her to do as she chooses. Eppie tells Godfrey and Nancy that she does not want to leave her father, nor does she want to become a lady.
Godfrey insists that he has a claim on Eppie and confesses that he is her father. Silas angrily retorts that, if this is the case, Godfrey should have claimed Eppie when she was a baby instead of waiting until Silas and Eppie had grown to love each other. Not expecting this resistance, Godfrey tells Silas that he is standing in the way of Eppie’s welfare. Silas says that he will not argue anymore and leaves the decision up to Eppie. As she listens, Nancy cannot help but sympathize with Silas and Eppie, but feels that it is only right that Eppie claim her birthright. Nancy feels that Eppie’s new life would be an unquestionably better one. Eppie, however, says that she would rather stay with Silas. Nancy tells her that it is her duty to go to her real father’s house, but Eppie responds that Silas is her real father. Godfrey, greatly discouraged, turns to leave, and Nancy says they will return another day.
Summary: Chapter 20
Godfrey and Nancy return home and realize that Eppie’s decision is final. Godfrey concedes that what Silas has said is right, and he resigns himself simply to helping Eppie from afar. Godfrey and Nancy surmise that Eppie will marry Aaron, and Godfrey wistfully comments on how pretty and nice Eppie seemed. He says he noticed that Eppie took a dislike to him when he confessed that he was her father, and he decides that it must be his punishment in life to be disliked by his daughter. Godfrey tells Nancy that he is grateful, despite everything, to have been able to marry her, and vows to be satisfied with their marriage.
Summary: Chapter 21
The next morning Silas tells Eppie that he wants to make a trip to his old home, Lantern Yard, to clear up his lingering questions about the theft and the drawing of the lots. After a few days’ journey, they find the old manufacturing town much changed and walk through it looking for the old chapel. The town is frightening and alien to them, with high buildings and narrow, dirty alleys. They finally reach the spot where the chapel used to be, and it is gone, having been replaced by a large factory. No one in the area knows what happened to the former residents of Lantern Yard. Silas realizes that Raveloe is his only home now, and upon his return tells Dolly that he will never know the answers to his questions. Dolly responds that it does not matter if his questions remain unanswered because that does not change the fact that he was in the right all along. Silas agrees, saying that he does not mind because he has Eppie now, and that gives him faith.
Eppie and Aaron are married on a beautiful summer day. Priscilla Lammeter and her father are among those who watch the procession through the village. They have come to keep Nancy company, as Godfrey has gone away for the day “for special reasons.” Priscilla tells her father that she wishes Nancy had found a child like Eppie to raise for her own. The procession stops at Mr. Macey’s porch, as he is too old and frail to attend the wedding feast and has prepared some kind words for Silas. At the Rainbow, the assembling guests talk about Silas’s strange story, and everyone, even the farrier, agrees that he deserves his good fortune. The wedding procession of Silas, Eppie, Aaron, and Dolly approaches the cottage. Eppie and Aaron have decided they would rather stay in Silas’s cottage than go to any new home, so the cottage has been altered to accommodate Aaron. Among other improvements, a large and impressive garden has been built at Godfrey’s expense. Returning home with the wedding party, Eppie tells Silas that she thinks “nobody could be happier than we are.”
Analysis: Chapters 19–21, Conclusion
The final intersection of the two narrative lines resolves the novel’s remaining tensions. The confrontation between Silas and the Casses over their claims to Eppie is partly a conflict of class. Despite their good intentions for Eppie’s welfare, Godfrey and Nancy do not understand the depth of Silas’s feelings for his daughter. Godfrey simply assumes that “deep affections can hardly go along with callous palms and scant means.” Though Nancy is more sympathetic to Silas’s bond with Eppie, she still regards the prospect of Eppie’s belatedly restored birthright as an “unquestionable good.” Also, Nancy’s “code” gives precedence to the claim of the blood father over the adoptive father. Against these claims, however, Silas and Eppie’s simple assertion of family easily wins out. The Casses’ assumptions of upper-class superiority and the importance of blood relations are no match for Silas’s simple emotion and moral certitude. Eliot here shows that Silas’s “rude mind,” which she describes with some condescension earlier in the novel, in fact possesses a great deal of natural nobility.
While Godfrey’s attempt to make up for his past inaction is an important event, to some extent it has been predetermined by what has come before. As Silas says, after so many years, it is impossible for Godfrey to make up for his previous refusal to claim Eppie. Godfrey comes to understand that his wish to “pass for childless” when courting Nancy now means that he must continue to be childless, even though his wish has changed. Godfrey has no more managed to escape the consequences of his actions than Dunsey has. The sense of predetermination that haunts Godfrey is integral to the highly moral nature of Eliot’s narrative universe. Good deeds are ultimately rewarded, and evil deeds—or cowardly inaction—are punished.
When Silas and Eppie visit Lantern Yard, they find that it is the opposite of Raveloe in more than one sense. Silas finds it a frightening and unrecognizable place. The chapel and graveyard have completely disappeared, and no one in the town remembers anything about the way things once were. Unlike Raveloe, where nothing ever goes away, in the larger town we see that people and places can disappear without a trace. The same thirty years that have utterly effaced Lantern Yard have brought virtually no comparable change to the landscape of Raveloe. The transitory nature of the larger town is partly a function of its size, but is also tied to industrialization. A factory, after all, replaces Lantern Yard’s chapel. The tall buildings that Silas and Eppie pass on their way through the town, with their “gloomy” doorways filled with “sallow, begrimed” faces, contrast with the rural, outdoorsy life of Raveloe. The industrial landscape of the larger town—frightening, destructive, and dehumanizing—has wiped out memory and history.
Silas Marner closes with a final public event, bringing together all of its characters in the same way the Rainbow and the Squire’s dance do. However, whereas Silas is an intruder at the public gatherings earlier in the novel, this time he is at the center. Moreover, Godfrey, who was the beau of the New Year’s dance, chooses not to attend the wedding, making himself the outsider. Importantly, both Mr. Macey’s statement and the wedding guests’ conversations concern not the newlyweds but Silas himself. This provides yet another sign that Silas has completed his progression from the margins of the community to the center.
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