Silas Marner

by: George Eliot

Part I, Chapters 7–8

Summary Part I, Chapters 7–8

This bond, however, is reinforced only through scapegoating another outsider, the peddler. The townspeople’s suspicion of the peddler and their conjectures about his earrings are laughable, but such behavior emphasizes the insularity of the village. The townspeople are deeply suspicious of strangers, especially those with dark skin and earrings who resemble gypsies. However, there is nonetheless some element of logic to these suspicions. As Jem Rodney points out, if a village resident stole the money, it would be quite difficult for him or her to spend it without attracting attention.

Eliot fleshes out Godfrey’s character in Chapter Eight, as Godfrey debates whether to come clean to his father. As Eliot writes earlier, Godfrey possesses plenty of “animal courage,” but is cursed with “natural irresolution and moral cowardice.” He is weak and spoiled, unwilling to make sacrifices for what he knows to be right. Like Dunsey, Godfrey is self-interested and shortsighted: he repeatedly puts off decisions about his future in the hope that his situation will right itself. Unlike the malicious Dunsey, however, Godfrey is basically decent and periodically attempts to do good. Godfrey’s resistance to the townspeople’s suspicions about the peddler shows that he is at least somewhat free of their antiquated superstitions.

For all his physical grace and strength, Godfrey is a passive character. The one significant act he has taken, marrying Molly Farren, occurred only under pressure from his brother and from Molly herself. Furthermore, even when pushed to act, Godfrey still tends to remain unwilling to own up to the greater consequences of his actions, and is thus left in limbo. Eliot contrasts Godfrey’s passivity not only with Dunsey’s active malice but also with Squire Cass’s violent temper. Like Godfrey, the Squire is lazy and fails to heed his troubles until they are impossible to ignore. The Squire only reaches decisions in fits of anger, making violent and rash resolutions that he refuses to revoke even when his head has cooled. Godfrey, in contrast, never erupts, and merely continues to backpedal.

Though Godfrey is incapable of action, his inaction nonetheless sets events in motion: it frustrates the Squire and Nancy, who wonder why Godfrey has not proposed marriage; it allows Dunsey to take advantage of Godfrey and act in his place; and eventually it forces Molly, and then Silas, into actions of great significance. Ironically, it is thus the perpetually irresolute Godfrey who drives much of the major action of the novel.