The Triangular Silas Marner
As a result of betrayal, Silas Marner of George Eliot's so titled novel becomes a man in body without incurring any of the duties normally associated with nineteenth century working class adults. Eliot creates these unusual circumstances by framing our title-hero so it appears to his comrades that he has stolen money. Thereby, she effectively rejects innocent Marner from his community and causes him to lose his fiancé. At this pivotal moment in Marner's life, just as he is about to assume fully the role of a man, depended upon as such by his neighbors, future wife and probable children, he is excised and does not successfully complete the transformation. Accordingly, he moves on to a new place, Raveloe, with the same carefree lack of responsibility as a boy, who is clearly unable to act like the man he seems he should be.
By denying Marner the possibility of a traditional family from the start, Eliot immediately brings forward the question of family values. A question that she answers in the course of her novel. Jeff Nunokawa, in his essay The Miser's Two Bodies: Silas Marner and the Sexual Possibilities of the Commodity, claims that Eliot "simply" shows "support for family values" (Nunokawa 273), and that she "encourages" them through her narrative (Nunokawa 290). As evidence, he cites quotations from the text that paint, as he puts it, "men [living] without women... in a barren region" (Nunokawa 273). Adeptly, he points to Eliot's line, "The maiden was lost... and then what was left to them?'" (Nunokawa 273). Furthermore, Nunokawa goes on to label the moral implications of the novel as those of a "blunt dichotomy," saying that Eliot hands her reader "the ...
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... for it is the middle ground between its own two opposites, which include the possibilities of not having a family at all and going with the one you are biologically given. Silas Marner is not a tale of black and white, right and wrong, it is more complex and aims to depict at least three angles -- if not more that I have, as of yet, failed to unravel.
Carroll, David, "Reversing the Oracles of Religion," Casebook Series on George Eliot, Ed. R. P. Draper. London: Macmillan Press Ltd, 1977.
Cave, Terence, "Introduction to Oxford World Classic's Silas Marner" (see following entry for details.)
Eliot, George. Silas Marner. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.
Nunokawa, Jeff, "The Miser's Two Bodies: Silas Marner and the Sexual Possibilities of the Commodity," Victorian Studies, 1993, Spring, v. 36. pp. 273-390.