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Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors
used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
Silas’s loom embodies many of the novel’s major themes.
On a literal level, the loom is Silas’s livelihood and source of
income. The extent to which Silas’s obsession with money deforms
his character is physically embodied by the bent frame and limited
eyesight he develops due to so many hours at the loom. The loom
also foreshadows the coming of industrialization—the loom is a machine
in a time and place when most labor was nonmechanical, related to
farming and animal husbandry. Additionally, the loom, constantly
in motion but never going anywhere, embodies the unceasing but unchanging nature
of Silas’s work and life. Finally, the process of weaving functions
as a metaphor for the creation of a community, with its many interwoven
threads, and presages the way in which Silas will bring together
the village of Raveloe.
The place where Silas was raised in a tight-knit religious
sect, Lantern Yard is a community of faith, held together by a narrow
religious belief that Eliot suggests is based more on superstition
than any sort of rational thought. Lantern Yard is the only community Silas
knows, and after he is excommunicated, he is unable to find any
similar community in Raveloe. Throughout the novel Lantern Yard
functions as a symbol of Silas’s past, and his gradual coming to grips
with what happened there signals his spiritual thaw. When Silas
finally goes back to visit Lantern Yard, he finds that the entire neighborhood
has disappeared, and no one remembers anything of it. A large factory
stands in the spot where the chapel once stood. This disappearance
demonstrates the disruptive power of industrialization, which destroys
tradition and erases memory. Likewise, this break with the past
signals that Silas has finally been able to move beyond his own
embittering history, and that his earlier loss of faith has been
replaced with newfound purpose.
The hearth represents the physical center of the household
and symbolizes all of the comforts of home and family. When Godfrey dreams
of a life with Nancy, he sees himself “with all his happiness centred
on his own hearth, while Nancy would smile on him as he played with
the children.” Even in a public place such as the Rainbow, one’s
importance is measured by how close one sits to the fire. Initially,
Silas shares his hearth with no one, at least not intentionally.
However, the two intruders who forever change Silas’s life, first Dunsey
and then Eppie, are drawn out of inclement weather by the inviting
light of Silas’s fire. Silas’s cottage can never be entirely separate
from the outside world, and the light of Silas’s fire attracts both misfortune
and redemption. In the end, it is Silas’s hearth that feels the
warmth of family, while Godfrey’s is childless.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Silas Marner!