3. This strangely novel situation of opening his trouble to his Raveloe neighbours, of sitting in the warmth of a hearth not his own, and feeling the presence of faces and voices which were his nearest promise of help, had doubtless its influence on Marner, in spite of his passionate preoccupation with his loss. Our consciousness rarely registers the beginning of a growth within us any more than without us: there have been many circulations of the sap before we detect the smallest sign of the bud.
Here, in Chapter 7, is the first moment since his banishment from Lantern Yard that Silas is in any way part of a community. He is at the Rainbow, having gone there to seek help after he is robbed. The tavern-goers sit Silas down by the hearth and make him tell his story from beginning to end. As he does so, unbeknownst even to him, Silas begins to experience the first stirrings of a sense of solidarity with his neighbors. Everything about the experience is “strangely novel” for Silas: he has never been to the Rainbow and has not in a very long time been inside anyone’s house but his own. More important, he has not in fifteen years had the experience of feeling reassured by the presence of others.
In describing these beginnings of a change, Eliot relies, as she often does, on a metaphor drawn from the natural world. Here, Silas is compared to a budding plant in the late winter, when the sap has started to circulate but before there is any outward sign of life. This image of rebirth suggests an idea of community as something natural and organic, as opposed to the unnatural, deforming isolation from which Silas is beginning to emerge.