Silas Marner

by: George Eliot

Symbols

Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

Silas’s Loom

Silas’s loom embodies many of the novel’s major themes. On a literal level, the loom is Silas’s livelihood and source of income. The extent to which Silas’s obsession with money deforms his character is physically embodied by the bent frame and limited eyesight he develops due to so many hours at the loom. The loom also foreshadows the coming of industrialization—the loom is a machine in a time and place when most labor was nonmechanical, related to farming and animal husbandry. Additionally, the loom, constantly in motion but never going anywhere, embodies the unceasing but unchanging nature of Silas’s work and life. Finally, the process of weaving functions as a metaphor for the creation of a community, with its many interwoven threads, and presages the way in which Silas will bring together the village of Raveloe.

Lantern Yard

The place where Silas was raised in a tight-knit religious sect, Lantern Yard is a community of faith, held together by a narrow religious belief that Eliot suggests is based more on superstition than any sort of rational thought. Lantern Yard is the only community Silas knows, and after he is excommunicated, he is unable to find any similar community in Raveloe. Throughout the novel Lantern Yard functions as a symbol of Silas’s past, and his gradual coming to grips with what happened there signals his spiritual thaw. When Silas finally goes back to visit Lantern Yard, he finds that the entire neighborhood has disappeared, and no one remembers anything of it. A large factory stands in the spot where the chapel once stood. This disappearance demonstrates the disruptive power of industrialization, which destroys tradition and erases memory. Likewise, this break with the past signals that Silas has finally been able to move beyond his own embittering history, and that his earlier loss of faith has been replaced with newfound purpose.

The Hearth

The hearth represents the physical center of the household and symbolizes all of the comforts of home and family. When Godfrey dreams of a life with Nancy, he sees himself “with all his happiness centred on his own hearth, while Nancy would smile on him as he played with the children.” Even in a public place such as the Rainbow, one’s importance is measured by how close one sits to the fire. Initially, Silas shares his hearth with no one, at least not intentionally. However, the two intruders who forever change Silas’s life, first Dunsey and then Eppie, are drawn out of inclement weather by the inviting light of Silas’s fire. Silas’s cottage can never be entirely separate from the outside world, and the light of Silas’s fire attracts both misfortune and redemption. In the end, it is Silas’s hearth that feels the warmth of family, while Godfrey’s is childless.