Strangely Marner’s face and figure shrank and bent themselves into a constant mechanical relation to the objects of his life, so that he produced the same sort of impression as a handle or a crooked tube, which has no meaning standing apart. The prominent eyes that used to look trusting and dreamy, now looked as if they had been made to see only one kind of thing that was very small, like tiny grain, for which they hunted everywhere; and he was so withered and yellow, that, though he was not yet forty, the children always called him “Old Master Marner.”

From Chapter 2, this passage creates in Silas a portrait of the dehumanizing effects of commodified labor that Karl Marx had written about a few years prior to the publication of this novel. Silas’s mechanical way of life and his worship of money make him into an almost grotesque parody of what Marx dubbed “the commodification of labor.” In this way Silas serves as a harbinger of industrialization for sleepy Raveloe. For Marx, industrialization inevitably leads to a dehumanization of labor, as workers are reduced to nothing more than the amount of money that their labor is worth. Workers’ social positions and ties to particular places are eliminated to create a vast, mobile labor force. In this passage, Silas is described as similarly disconnected, his humanity degraded to the status of a mere machine. He is prematurely aged, “withered and yellow,” and has shrunk and bent to fit to his loom—so much so that he looks like a part of the loom, “a handle or a crooked tube, which has no meaning standing apart.”

We learn that even Silas’s eyesight has been damaged by his constant work. His inability to see things that are far away, is a handicap that takes on metaphorical overtones in this passage. His ability to see only “one kind of thing that was very small, for which [his eyes] hunted everywhere” shows the money-obsessed narrow-mindedness into which Silas has fallen. At this point in the novel, Silas can see only one kind of thing, gold, in everything he does. His money is the only thing that gives meaning to his life. Here, as elsewhere, Silas’s physical deterioration parallels a spiritual one. Later, after Eppie brings Silas back into the community, we see another description of his eyes and learn that by then they “seem to have gathered a longer vision.”