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Marner, giving reasons why?
Change can be natural or provoked manually, it is unavoidable, it is
inevitable, it is imperative and it can be both welcome and greeted
The Concise Oxford Dictionary says change is to,
‘Make or become different’,
and the Oxford Thesaurus offers these alternatives,
‘adapt, adjust, alter, amend, convert, modify and transform’.
Change and its effects is the underlying theme of Silas Marner. The
novel is a fable because it has a strong moral message, which is
change, and based on one fictitious individual and how they should and
should not cope with both positive and negative change. It is a story
ultimately about redemption within oneself due to catastrophic changes
to a lifestyle. In this particular case, the life in question is that
of Silas Marner’s.
As the title suggests, the main character is Marner and it was
customary of 19th century writers to name their novel on the main
character and from there after, follow the change and development of
that character within their environment. This would infer that Marner
is the main character, and that he is to undertake the most change
throughout the course of the story. A wise assumption perhaps, but
under closer observation there may be more to consider than first
Other characters from whom we can extract good examples of various
types of change from are Aaron Winthrop, Nancy Lammeter, and Eppie.
Yet, the only character to experience change radical enough to rival
Marner’s is Godfrey Cass.
However, before I can describe in detail what changes these two
characters have experienced we need to know what they were like before
any change, at the beginning of the story. Obviously, in order to
change, the subject needs to change from something to something else;
and to gauge how much change has taken place, there needs to be a
comparison between the past and present. So, what are the two
characters like when we first meet them?
The first mention of Marner is at the beginning of the second
paragraph. At this time, Marner is in Raveloe having already left
‘In the early years of this century such a linen-weaver, named Silas
Marner, worked at his vocation in a stone cottage that stood among the
nutty hedgerows near the village of Raveloe, and not far from the edge
of a deserted stone pit.’
This does not tell us much about Marner’s character but a change in
character is not the only thing to attract interest. The text gives us
an insight into his appearance by saying,
‘such a linen weaver,’.
To me this is implying Marner is quite a stereotypical linen-weaver,
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‘pallid, undersized men’; ‘the remnants of a disinherited race’;
‘alien looking men’ and, ‘pale men’.
George Eliot is not being too complementary to Marner and I think she
is trying to create the feeling that he belongs to an unfortunate,
frail and unprivileged group of society hence inflicting reader
sympathy upon him. We also know that Marner works ardently in a stone
cottage on literally, the outskirts of society. Eliot also mentions
‘deserted’ in the passage, an obvious reference to Marner’s presence
(or non-presence) in the village.
So from that quote we are aware of Marner’s appearance, that he is
treated with suspicion by onlookers due to the mysterious nature of
his species, and we can also assume he is a loner, engrossed in his
work on the outskirts of society.
We first meet Godfrey in the third paragraph of chapter three:
‘But it would be a thousand pities if Mr. Godfrey, the eldest, a fine
open-faced, good-natured young man who has come into the world, some
day, should take to going along the same road as his brother, as he
had seemed to do of late.’
This gives us a lot of information about what Godfrey is like. We have
a physical description and, more importantly, a description of his
personality and social status. He is described as a good-natured young
man who is the heir to the
‘greatest man in Raveloe’, Squire Cass.
Nevertheless, he is not just daddy’s little rich boy; he is inclined
to go down the road his brother took, that of betting, gambling and
drinking. The fact that Eliot says it would ‘be a thousand pictures’
if Cass were to go down this road is significant. The quote is
suggesting that this is not Godfrey’s real nature, at heart he is a
very respectable young man and it would be unfortunate if he were to
sidetrack from his ethics in search of a more daring lifestyle. What’s
more, Godfrey would not have felt too self-conscious or guilty at
doing this because at this time in history it was actually very common
for men in his position to stray away from their respectable
traditions and deviate into dishonourable exploits.
We now have a brief description of what both characters are like
before any sort of change, so we can now go on to look at how they
have changed. I think it is important to discuss in what categories we
will monitor change. I need to describe what I mean when I refer to
In the first sentence of the essay, we have the definition of what
change is; but in what mediums can ‘become different’ refer to?
Therefore, in order to prevent further speculation, when I speak of
change in this essay, I am referring to changes of personality or
character, physical appearance, emotional or mental changes, domestic
changes and social changes.
So, from this conclusion, what examples of ‘change’ can we extract
from the text in reference to the lives of Mr. Marner and Mr. Cass?
As previously mentioned, Silas Marner is a story about redemption, and
in most cases including this one, redemption is about love. There are
many relationships in the story that are pivotal to the plot and
without these relationships, events that have taken place would not
have and the story wouldn’t have ended with the confrontation between
Marner and Cass.
The first relationship we come across is that between Marner and Sarah
Oates at Lantern Yard, mentioned in the first chapter. This is a very
significant relationship in the story, though only briefly described.
Silas loves Sarah dearly and is led to believe her love is genuine in
return, for it is only financial barriers that prevent them from
‘waiting only for a little increase to their mutual savings in order
to their marriage’.
However, what Marner is unfortunately unaware of is Sarah’s feelings
towards his best friend, William Dane:
‘(it was a great delight to him that) Sarah did not object to William’s
occasional presence in their Sunday interviews.’
The relationship between Sarah and Dane causes Marner’s engagement to
fall apart and this obviously has a major psychiatric effect on him.
Yet I do not believe this is the reason Marner was in emotional exile
for so long.
Most of the relationships in the story are not romantic relationships;
only this and one other out of many are fuelled by romance. Instead,
most of the relationships are about fraternal or paternal love – a
completely different dimension of the word ‘love’.
The fraternal love that exists between Marner and Dane is the
important relationship here, not that involving Sarah Oates. Marner
and Dane were so close they compared to the biblical friends, David
‘he had long lived in such close friendship that it was the custom of
their Lantern Yard brethren to call them David and Jonathan’.
Going back to one of the above quotes, I added brackets round one
section because it is not significant until now. Marner was obviously
ignorant of Sarah and Dane’s relationship because he was quite happy
with Dane being there. He wanted Dane to be there himself, maybe even
more than Sarah did. It was the breakdown of this relationship with
Dane, his closest sole mate known, which was the reason for the
primary change in Marner. The change that included his moving home,
the cause of his insanity that made him lose all touch with society,
all confidence in himself, and all trust in other people.
Marner’s next significant relationship in the novel is with his new
acquired fortune that he has accumulated in his fifteen years of
vocational labour. The importance of this relationship isn’t about how
much it’s worth or it’s material value, the relationship isn’t
actually between Marner and this money, it is specifically about Gold.
As we will come to see, the fact that it is gold is extremely
important, gold holds much more weight and dramatic influence than
money, coins or riches could. Marner subconsciously replaces Sarah
with the gold. The gold is the all-important solo aspect in his life;
to Marner it is everything, he buries himself in his work, so to:
‘bridge over the loveless chasms of his life’.
Marner is a monomaniac; he is concentrating on one thing in life hence
diverting his attentions away from his troubles. He now lives in a:
‘wooded region, where he felt hidden even from the heavens’.
He does not want to notice anyone and he does not want to have
anything to do with any other human or even celestial being; Silas
Marner wants to be in control of Silas Marner’s life. The human race
has betrayed him, he can no longer trust anyone from it and instead
turns to something that can offer no resistance and he can simply
enjoy the gold’s companionship. To him the gold is a solution to all
his problems and he can occupy himself with its trusting company. So
from these two relationships we have an example of change, how Marner
has rejected human love in favour of a constant, one-way relationship
that carries no conditions.
From looking at the changes in those two relationships and the effects
that are of a consequence of them, we have identified how Marner has
changed in the aftermath emotionally, domestically and socially. We
can now compare these changes to the changes that occur to Godfrey
because of his relationships.
When we first meet Godfrey, we soon become aware of his character and
the type of lady he ‘should’ be courting, Nancy Lammeter for example;
but we are made aware of a relationship of a very different nature
that he is already participating in. It is apparent that he is married
and has a child with Molly Farren, a peasant drug-addict and
alcoholic, outside of Raveloe. This relationship would bring disgrace
to him, his family and Raveloe itself, how he became involved in it in
the first place is never explained.
The laudanum Molly is addicted to does eventually kill her and,
unsurprisingly this ends the relationship. Somewhat overlapping this
marriage is Godfrey’s relationship with Ms. Lammeter. We know she
comes from an upper class background, much unlike Molly, and is a very
suitable partner to match the position of Godfrey. Upon examining
these relationships, it does not take a genius to notice there is more
than just a little contrast. Nancy is undoubtedly the right partner
for Godfrey and why he was in the other relationship is a mystery, we
do not know why Godfrey’s relationships changed so much, but they did
and this is important to the story. If Cass had not left Molly, then
the affair on the night of years eve would never had happened and the
resulting quarter of the book would have been non-existent. This
change in Cass’s relationship is significant and has an affect on the
plot and his character. Later on in the book having married Nancy, he
appears a much wiser, philosophical man because of his past
All the relationships discussed so far result in the presence of
Eppie. Being the biological daughter of Molly and Cass, she is brought
to Raveloe by Molly, abandoned by Cass and somehow makes her way into
Marner’s cottage. Upon seeing this ‘marvel’ Marner was taken aback,
for surely this was:
‘Gold! – his own gold – brought back to him as mysteriously as it had
been taken away!’
These first impressions upon seeing the child are very important, we
all know he has made the simple mistake of mistaking a child’s golden
hair for golden coins, after all he was short-sighted. Perhaps this is
an indication of how much he has missed the gold since it was stole
from him and how much he has anticipated it actually returning one
day. However when he realises it is a child, he becomes just as
besotted with its charms because for the first time since his
relationships back at Lantern Yard:
‘it stirred fibres that had never been moved in Raveloe – old
quiverings of tenderness’.
As Eppie grows, so does the relationship grow and Marner remembers
what it is like to love again. He loved the gold, but Eppie is an
adequate substitute for this. Remember, Marner first noticed her
golden, curly locks of hair and this has remained symbolic throughout
Marner’s adoration with the child. Marner has changed back to his old,
sane self. He has changed back again and this will result in him
keeping his golden treasure.
Meanwhile Cass, no doubt affectionate for his child, is content with
Marner’s stewardship of Eppie. Where Marner is able to accept the
responsibility of keeping Eppie, Cass is not; yet. Cass is still young
and immature; he has things that are more important on his mind like
his reputation and his relationship with Nancy to be bothered about
Eppie. But sixteen years later, being married to Nancy and comfortably
accepted as the most important man in Raveloe, he feels the time right
to make a claim for Eppie. Over the years, though never emotionally
deserting Eppie, he was never prepared to change and accept
responsibility of her, now he is.
The climax of the fable is the confrontation between the two
characters over Eppie. One has loved and lived with her for sixteen
years, the other has hid in the shadows like a coward. Confronting
Marner, Cass makes the justified claim that Eppie is his child and
that she belongs to him. Marner graciously accepts this fact but
raises the question about why Cass had not come forward sixteen years
ago rather than now. There is no answer, Cass just simply wasn’t ready
for the change then, if he was he may have owned Eppie all that time,
but instead it was Marner who stepped forward and Eppie was his.
In short, both Marner and Cass change a lot throughout the story. They
both change numerous times in various examples, but Marner made the
significant change first. Cass changed, but changed later than Marner,
he waited for things to dictate when he should make these changes: he
only married Nancy once Molly had died and his claim for Eppie was
simply too late. Therefore, Marner deserves the acknowledgement of
being the character that has undertaken the most change, he is the
main character, but he has nonetheless changed on his own accord.