Imagine being framed up for a theft crime you did not commit and your fiancée breaking off her engagement to you to marry your best friend. This is the story of the eponymous character, Silas Marner, in George Eliot’s Victorian text. He goes on to live a solitary life, segregates himself from the society and disconnects himself from his youthful faith in God. Disaster strikes again as his gold is stolen but his discovery of a golden-haired baby girl who he considers as his sister who has come back to him in a dream, makes a huge difference in his life. He is ultimately redeemed through his love for Eppie and brings her up as his own child. As his love for Eppie grows in leaps and bounds, he gradually fraternises with the members of the society.
This novel was written in 1860 by the English novelist, Mary Ann Evans under the pseudonym, George Eliot. To get away from the stereotype of women’s writing being limited to lighthearted romances and wanting to have her fiction assessed separately from her already existing and extensive works as an editor and critic, she wrote this novel bearing the name George Eliot. The genre of Silas Marner can be considered as Realism; the realist aspects is evident in the style of writing as Eliot focuses on the everyday facts of village life through the descriptions of the characters’ daily activities. Just like the dominant features of novel writing in the 19th century, there is the dominant representation of the common everyday life rather than the description of the upper echelons in the society. In addition, the narration in the text is from the omniscient perspective, going into the minds of the characters and describing what they are seeing, feeling and thinking; also, what they are failing to see, feel or think. With this style of writing, the narrator inhabits the characters and allows the readers to get a direct access into the thought processes of the characters.
Silas is aged thirty-nine when we meet him and he has been living in the English countryside village of Raveloe for about fifteen years. He avoids the company of his neighbours and this causes them to look at him with suspicion at all times. His daily routine is to work at his loom all day. His physical appearance is peculiar as he is bent from his work at the loom and has strange and frightening eyes, he is likened to “a spider, a narrow, nearly dried-up rivulet and a handle or crooked tube”. He experiences occasional fits, no wonder, he has knowledge of medicinal herbs; due to this, many of his neighbours speculate that he has special powers. The backstory of the novel comprises the events that led to his movement from Lantern Yard to Raveloe. In Lantern Yard, he is local church devout. After being framed for a crime of theft committed by his best friend William Dane, he changes his setting to Raveloe.
Additionally, Silas’ characterisation makes him the focus of themes such as the relationship between the individual and society. Silas embodies the concept of the individual versus the community and much of the novel’s dramatic weight is generated by the tension between Silas and the community of Raveloe. One is not able to comprehend Silas in the context of the community because he originally lacks any sense of belonging or identity. This was why his neighbours regarded him as odd or strange and often looked at him with curiosity, fear and suspicion. This shows that to be isolated from the community is something regarded out of the ordinary. The portrait of family and the home is evident in the unlikely domestic life he creates with Eppie. This is to say that he regains interest in life and community through his love for Eppie and even gains friendship in Dolly Winthrop and her son, Aaron. Silas’ ability to love deeply manifests itself when he discovers this baby girl and raises her. Thus, through the relationship between Silas and Eppie extending to Dolly Winthrop and Aaron, Eliot explores the interconnectedness of community.
An important dimension in the text is Silas’ loss and regain of faith. Silas’ early faith at Lantern Yard is distinct from the faith he regains at Raveloe. Lantern Yard is symbolic of the change that Silas undergoes when he is betrayed. His loss of faith at his home community stems from the fact that he is framed for a crime he did not commit and lost his fiancée to his best friend. He believed that God was going to prove his innocence and this is why he did not take any steps to defend himself. However, the church drew lots and named him as the criminal. In these events, he lost any hope of redemption. Realistically, there is a connection between faith and community and this is seen in the fact that the community of Lantern Yard is largely united by religious faith. When he feels betrayed by this community, he loses his faith and isolates himself from the community when he moves to Raveloe. Raveloe symbolises Marner’s new faith which he regains through Eppie as he rediscovers an interest in human connection. The interesting thing at this point is Silas reclaiming his faith is not based on religion or the idea of God but based on his relationship with a human. This affection for Eppie makes him feel alive again. Silas’ faith consists of a belief in the goodness of other people as much as an idea of God. Eliot’s Silas Marner is about the recovery of purpose, faith and sense of belonging through finding a golden-haired Eppie.