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1. 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.”
2. 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
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.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Silas Marner!