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Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary
devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
Throughout the novel, Eliot draws on the natural world
for many images and metaphors. Silas in particular is often compared
to plants or animals, and these images are used to trace his progression from
isolated loner to well-loved father figure. As he sits alone weaving
near the start of the novel, Silas is likened to a spider, solitary
and slightly ominous. Just after he is robbed, Silas is compared to
an ant that finds its usual path blocked—an image of limitation and
confusion, but also of searching for a solution. Later, as Silas begins
to reach out to the rest of the village, his soul is likened to
a plant, not yet budding but with its sap beginning to circulate. Finally,
as he raises Eppie, Silas is described as “unfolding” and “trembling
into full consciousness,” imagery evoking both the metamorphosis
of an insect and the blooming of a flower. This nature imagery also
emphasizes the preindustrial setting of the novel, reminding us
of a time in England when the natural world was a bigger part of
daily life than it was after the Industrial Revolution.
For the most part, the events of Silas Marner take
place in two homes, Silas’s cottage and the Cass household. The
novel’s two key events are intrusions into Silas’s domestic space,
first by Dunsey and then by Eppie. Eliot uses the home as a marker
of the state of its owner. When Silas is isolated and without faith,
his cottage is bleak and closed off from the outside world. As Silas
opens himself up to the community, we see that his door is more
frequently open and he has a steady stream of visitors. Finally,
as Silas and Eppie become a family, the cottage is brightened and
filled with new life, both figuratively and in the form of literal
improvements and refurbishments to the house and yard. Likewise,
the Cass household moves from slovenly and “wifeless” under the
Squire to clean and inviting under Nancy.
Raveloe, like most of nineteenth-century English society,
is organized along strict lines of social class. This social hierarchy
is encoded in many ways: the forms characters use to address one another,
their habits, even where they sit at social events. While the Casses
are not nobility, as landowners they sit atop Raveloe’s social pecking
order, while Silas, an outsider, is at its base. Nonetheless, Silas
proves himself to be the better man than his social superiors. Similarly,
in Eppie’s view, the simple life of the working class is preferable
to that of the landed class. Eliot is skilled in showing how class
influences the thinking of her characters, from Dunsey’s idea of Silas
as simply a source of easy money to Godfrey and Nancy’s idea that,
as higher-class landowners, their claim to Eppie is stronger than
Ace your assignments with our guide to Silas Marner!