Guide to Critical Essays on Silas Marner

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  • Topic: Religion, Faith, Religious belief
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  • Published : May 22, 2012
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GUIDE TO CRITICAL ESSAYS ON SILAS MARNER:
1. 1.       SILAS MARNER: A STUDY IN TRANSITION by Shirley Galloway Writer’s thesis: 
* The story is not a fantasy but a serious work
* Main issues are class ( Eliot refutes the common belief that the upper classes are superior) industrialization ( she argues that industrialization dehumanizes and alienates workers) and religion ( she suggests a ‘religion of humanity’ as substitute for failure of organized religion). * The issues are realistically treated, in the context of the author’s time, and through a series of contradictory parallels. Para 2: Explains that novel is set during time of transition and summarises story. Para 3: finishes summary.

Para 4: dual story line mirrors class divisions, and values of each. Para 5 & 6: Gentry shown in unfavorable light, peasantry shown sympathetically. Result, author refutes idea that noble blood meant noble character. Para 7: second parallel between urban centre and rural community. Comparison highlights dehumanization of industrialization. Para 8: opposition between narrow religious sect and non-dogmatic community. This demonstrates ineffectuality of organized religion in contrast to simple human sympathy. Para 9: novel focuses on time of transition to convey to eliot’s readers what has been lost. Para 10: conclusion. Novel historically accurate, therefore realistic. Methods of dual story line and juxtaposed settings effective. Change described by Eliot has continued into our century.  

1. 2.       REVERSING THE ORACLES OF RELIGION by David Carroll  
* Story of Silas’ s life in Lantern Yard Eliot’s attack upon kind of religion she disapproved of.  Catalepsy symbolizes man’s vulnerability, need for human help. This fact escapes sect, as it is too anxious to search for divine intention., interpret everything in supernatural terms.  Contradicts reason and morality. * Bad effect on Silas -  gives up knowledge of herbs, denies human wisdom and goodness. Religious faith here works against Nature. For Eliot, life consists in coming to terms with inescapable realities of law, necessity and Nature. However, she does not reject all religious belief, but suggests that religion can only work if it expresses man’s helplessness and need for love, thus leading to realistic confrontation with universe. * Events in lantern Yard show destructive effects of belief in miraculous. Spiritual pride and jealousy epitomized in William Dane. Belief in an inhuman God has destroyed Silas,s belief in his fellow man. *  Eliot does not reject completely belief in supernatural, but shows that ‘form and feeling’ need to be ‘severed by an act of reflection’. Requires us to assess the various religious beliefs in the novel by measuring their human content.  In Lantern yard, it is pride, jealousy and revenge. * Change from lantern Yard to Raveloe is change in ‘moral geography’. * Eliot sees the forms of religion as part of the tissue of society. In Raveloe, religion is complementary to the easy-going life. * Whole organization of the novel requires us to compare the careers of Silas Marner and Godfrey Cass. Several similarities, but fundamental  one is that neither is able to face reality of inscrutable universe.  One seeks refuge in God of miracles, the other in God of chance. In both cases, reason is absence of love. * Comparison of William Dane and Dunstan.

* Melodramatic streak in both characters throws into relief Eliot’s success in presentation of more complex character of Godfrey. * Stories of Godfrey and Silas 2 versions of same theme. Differences in detail explained in terms of environment. * Parallel careers of the two men.

* Important difference: Silas retains possibility of complete regeneration but Godfrey does not.  Silas’s affection checked but never destroyed, but Godfrey’s actions egoistic , lead to positive wrong-doing. Crucial difference between two men revealed with appearance of Eppie. Each...
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