Silas Marner

George Eliot
Main Ideas

Themes

Main Ideas Themes

The Interdependence of Faith and Community

In one sense Silas Marner can be seen simply as the story of Silas’s loss and regaining of his faith. But one could just as easily describe the novel as the story of Silas’s rejection and subsequent embrace of his community. In the novel, these notions of faith and community are closely linked. They are both human necessities, and they both feed off of each other. The community of Lantern Yard is united by religious faith, and Raveloe is likewise introduced as a place in which people share the same set of superstitious beliefs. In the typical English village, the church functioned as the predominant social organization. Thus, when Silas loses his faith, he is isolated from any sort of larger community.

The connection between faith and community lies in Eliot’s close association of faith in a higher authority with faith in one’s fellow man. Silas’s regained faith differs from his former Lantern Yard faith in significant ways. His former faith was based first and foremost on the idea of God. When he is unjustly charged with murder, he does nothing to defend himself, trusting in a just God to clear his name. The faith Silas regains through Eppie is different in that it is not even explicitly Christian. Silas does not mention God in the same way he did in Lantern Yard, but bases his faith on the strength of his and Eppie’s commitment to each other. In his words, “since . . . I’ve come to love her . . . I’ve had light enough to trusten by; and now she says she’ll never leave me, I think I shall trusten till I die.”

Silas’s new faith is a religion that one might imagine Eliot herself espousing after her own break with formalized Christianity. It is a more personal faith than that of Lantern Yard, in which people zealously and superstitiously ascribe supernatural causes to events with straightforward causes, such as Silas’s fits. In a sense, Silas’s new belief is the opposite of his earlier, simplistic world view in that it preserves the place of mystery and ambiguity. Rather than functioning merely as a supernatural scapegoat, Silas’s faith comforts him in the face of the things that do not make sense to him. Additionally, as Dolly points out, Silas’s is a faith based on helping others and trusting others to do the same. Both Dolly’s and especially Silas’s faith consists of a belief in the goodness of other people as much as an idea of the divine. Such a faith is thus inextricably linked to the bonds of community.