Silas Marner Major Themes

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  • Topic: Silas Marner, George Eliot, Ben Kingsley
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  • Published : April 18, 2013
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Major Themes
Class
Silas Marner centers around two
households, Marner's cottage by
the stone-pits and the Cass manor,
the Red House. These two settings
represent class extremes, and the
people of Raveloe know it. The
cottage is the ramshackle abode of
the lowliest member of Raveloe
society; the manor is a sprawling
home filled with gentry and a
location for dances. Rather than
set an impermeable boundary
between these two worlds, Eliot
stages many intersections between
the two households. Dunstan Cass,
who is a member of the moneyed
class, enters Marner's home
looking for money. Silas Marner,
lowly and miserable, raises a
Squire's granddaughter as his own
child. Godfrey Cass, though he
owns Marner's cottage at the end
of the novel, is actually in the
weaver's debt. These are just a few
instances of the permeability of
class boundaries in the novel.
In Raveloe, strict boundaries of
class do not necessarily lead to
greater happiness among the
higher classes. Indeed, those with
money-or those who are supposed
to have money-tend to be the most
harried and corrupt characters,
such as Dunstan, Godfrey, and even
Silas before Eppie. The person most
oppressed by circumstances in
Silas Marner is perhaps Godfrey
Cass, who finds himself at the
mercy of a lower-class wife, who
fails to have children of his own,
and who ends up envying the bond
of a lowly weaver and his daughter.
Silas Marner and Eppie, on the
other hand, though they do not
have status or wealth, have power
over the Casses and seem to enjoy
unmitigated happiness.
The Rainbow tavern and the church
in Raveloe also serve as places
where class differences are evident.
The Rainbow becomes quite a
different place when the "gentles"
are having a dance; during these
times (in Chapter Six, for instance),
the lesser villagers, like Mr. Macey,
reign over the Rainbow, telling
stories all the while about the
landed members of society. At the
church, the important members of
society sit in assigned seats at the
front of the church while the rest
of the villagers sit behind them and
watch. In both these places,
although everyone recognizes the
status difference between the
common villagers and the gentry,
this difference does not seem to be
a problem in Raveloe. The lower
classes have not been fed the
broth of revolt; they seem quite
content. Meanwhile, the upper
classes are not oppressive or cruel
slave drivers like their factory-
owning counterparts. In fact, the
gentry rely upon the villagers to
sincerely appreciate their
importance and value in the town.
It is Mr. Macey, not Mr.
Lammeter, who celebrates the
history of the Warrens. And
without the respectful, watching
eyes of the villagers, the front-row
seats in church would have less
dignity.
Thus, Silas Marner tends to
represent class differences with
historical accuracy. Eliot seems
drawn to this pre-industrial era,
when there was an easygoing class
hierarchy in country towns.
Compare the relatively class-
indifferent respect that is shown in
Raveloe to the horrible factory in
the manufacturing town that
Marner and Eppie visit in Chapter
Twenty-One. The industrial world
treats the lower classes as inhuman
cogs in the factory wheels. In
Raveloe's trade-based society,
meanwhile, each villager can play
an important role in the success of
the society. That is, the weaver is
respected to some degree by the
Squire if he weaves his linens well.
Even so, one might reasonably
argue that Eliot's idyllic depiction
of happy peasants romanticizes the
difficulties of the class differences
in nineteenth-century England.
Myth and Folklore
Many critics of the novel fault its
unrealistic situations and
conclusions. They point out that
Marner's conversion from a
miserable old misanthrope to a
loving father happens too quickly,
and they argue that the end of the
novel has too much poetic justice,
with every character getting a...
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