What is the significance of Silas Marner’s nearsightedness?
Silas’s poor eyesight is part of the bodily deterioration and deformation he has experienced as the result of his long hours of work at the loom. Like his bent frame and premature aging, it is a mark of the dehumanizing qualities of long, repetitive labor. On the level of plot development, Silas’s poor vision creates a parallel between Eppie and Silas’s lost gold. He does not see Eppie come in, just as he did not see the gold leave. When he first notices Eppie, Silas sees her blonde hair and thinks that somehow his gold has returned. He must touch her hair in order to understand that Eppie is a living thing. On a symbolic level, Silas’s nearsightedness embodies his general narrowness of vision and thought—a limitation that, until Eppie comes into his life, prevents him from thinking beyond the narrow confines of his work and his gold. It is significant that, when we see Silas sixteen years after he has adopted Eppie and grown out of his spiritual straitjacket, his eyes “seem to have gathered a longer vision, as is the way with eyes that have been shortsighted in early life.”
Compare Silas Marner’s love of his money to his religious faith.
For fifteen years, Silas’s gold serves as a substitute for his lost faith. Silas loves his gold, works for it, and looks forward to viewing it and holding it in his hands each evening. He even comes to love the faces engraved on the coins as if they were his friends. But, as is made clear when Eppie appears, in his miserliness Silas has wasted his love on something that has no capacity to reciprocate. Unlike his lost faith, Silas’s love of his money is simply a desire and does not involve any higher system of beliefs. Moreover, Silas’s love of his money could be seen as the opposite of faith in that it renders his actions important only as a means to obtain more gold. Conversely, a life of faith, as exemplified by Dolly Winthrop, is one in which actions have meaning as manifestations of belief.
The other major difference is that religious faith is a communal experience. In both Lantern Yard and Raveloe, community is formed around shared faith. According to Dolly’s simple theology, religious faith is intimately associated with a faith in one’s neighbors, and the church is seen as responsible for those members of the community who cannot care for themselves. Silas’s guineas, on the other hand, draw him away from the world and shut him up in the isolation of his cottage.
What does Silas Marner’s cottage represent?
Silas’s stone cottage functions as a symbol of domesticity, one of Eliot’s primary motifs in the novel. Silas’s is a strange sort of domesticity, since the cottage is hardly furnished, but the cottage is still very much Silas’s private space. For Silas to be incorporated into the community, he must first be drawn out from his isolation in the cottage. Thus, the novel’s two most important events are intrusions into Silas’s cottage, first by Dunsey and then by Eppie. After each intrusion, Silas is forced to leave the cottage to seek help in the public space of the village.
Similarly, the cottage functions as a marker of Silas’s growth into the community. Initially, when Silas is isolated and without faith, his home is bleak and closed off from the outside world, with its doors tightly shut. As Silas begins to open himself up, his cottage likewise opens up. As Silas and Eppie become a family, the home is literally brightened and filled with new life, as the family gets several animals and improves the garden and yard.
The Cass household, the Red House, functions as a counterpoint to Silas’s cottage. While at the opposite extreme of size and luxury from Silas’s abode, the Cass home also undergoes a transformation as it moves from the Squire’s control to Nancy’s. The Red House plays host to two major social events in the novel: the New Year’s dance and Aaron and Eppie’s wedding procession. However, while Silas’s home continues to grow and take on new members, the Red House becomes increasingly subdued and has fewer occupants at the novel’s close than at its beginning.
1. Is there a difference between superstition and religion in the novel? If so, what is the difference?
2. Discuss the importance of labor in the novel.
3. How does social class function in the novel?
4. Why does Silas wish to visit Lantern Yard again? What does his visit accomplish?
5. Compare Nancy’s and Dolly’s systems of belief.
6. Eliot sets her novel in the recent, but nonetheless irretrievable, past. In what ways does she foreshadow the end of the world she describes?
7. The novel is set up as two parallel narratives that intersect three times. How do these meetings show a progression in Silas’s status as a member of the community?
8. Discuss the significance of the novel’s epigraph.