Silas Marner

by: George Eliot

Part I, Chapters 1–2

Summary Part I, Chapters 1–2

Silas’s mechanical aptitude and worship of money can be seen as representative of the imminent onset of industrialization, a historical phenomenon that uprooted many people from their villages and tore apart the communities that had previously connected working-class people to one another. The German social philosopher Karl Marx, writing shortly before George Eliot, coined the phrase “the commodification of labor” to describe this uprooting, which tended to dehumanize workers as they came to be defined solely in terms of the monetary value produced by their labor, rather than by their place in a local economy. Silas’s existence has become as mechanized as any factory worker’s. He is described as shrunken to fit to his loom, so much so that he looks like a part of it, and the narrator compares him to “a handle or a crooked tube, which has no meaning standing apart.” Silas’s labor holds no significance for him except as a means to collect more of the money he loves. He does not view his work as a contribution to the community or as something in which to take pride. Bereft of connections to other human beings, Silas attributes human qualities to his money, admiring the faces on the coins as if they were friends.