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The title character, Silas is a solitary weaver who, at
the time we meet him, is about thirty-nine years old and has been
living in the English countryside village of Raveloe for fifteen
years. Silas is reclusive and his neighbors in Raveloe regard him
with a mixture of suspicion and curiosity. He spends all day working
at his loom and has never made an effort to get to know any of the
villagers. Silas’s physical appearance is odd: he is bent from his
work at the loom, has strange and frightening eyes, and generally
looks much older than his years. Because Silas has knowledge of
medicinal herbs and is subject to occasional cataleptic fits, many
of his neighbors speculate that he has otherworldly powers.
Despite his antisocial behavior, however, Silas is at
heart a deeply kind and honest person. At no point in the novel
does Silas do or say anything remotely malicious and, strangely
for a miser, he is not even particularly selfish. Silas’s love of
money is merely the product of spiritual desolation, and his hidden
capacity for love and sacrifice manifests itself when he takes in
and raises Eppie.
Silas’s outsider status makes him the focal point for
the themes of community, religion, and family that Eliot explores
in the novel. As an outcast who eventually becomes Raveloe’s most
exemplary citizen, Silas serves as a study in the relationship between
the individual and the community. His loss and subsequent rediscovery
of faith demonstrate both the difficulty and the solace that religious
belief can bring. Additionally, the unlikely domestic life that
Silas creates with Eppie presents an unconventional but powerful
portrait of family and the home.
Though he is the title character of the novel, Silas
is by and large passive, acted upon rather than acting on others.
Almost all of the major events in the novel demonstrate this passivity.
Silas is framed for theft in his old town and, instead of proclaiming
his innocence, puts his trust in God to clear his name. Similarly,
Dunsey’s theft of Silas’s gold and Eppie’s appearance on Silas’s
doorstep—rather than any actions Silas takes of his own accord—are
the major events that drive the narrative forward. Silas significantly
diverges from this pattern of passivity when he decides to keep
Eppie, thereby becoming an agent of his eventual salvation.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Silas Marner!