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George Elliot's Silas Marner tells a tale of basic human nature depicted through the words and actions of the characters. The characterization presented throughout Silas Marner is enhanced with the uses of point of view, human understanding, and literary devices. Using these techniques, she creates believable characters that develop along with the plot to create a story line that, not only seems real, but also appeals to the human senses of understanding and sympathy.
George Elliot chose to write Silas Marner in the omniscient point of view (Holland, 57), meaning that the action could be viewed from any angle. In doing so, she creates an atmosphere in which any character is given the opportunity to display his or her feelings toward one another. This decision allows the reader to better understand why the characters feel the ways they do, because their reasoning is shown in their conversations and actions with others. Also, it allows the reader to realize that the characters' actions are dependent on the consequences one could face at the time it was written. This gave way for a more personal character to develop, because no one person was describing him or her. Certain traits are left for the reader to develop on his own.
Since Elliot chose to write in the omniscient point of view, she allows herself to control certain traits about each character through her use of narration. This is essential in presenting certain knowledge to the reader that not every character is aware of. Therefore, a strong presence of irony exists within the novel, and is displayed numerous times. One such situation continually represented is the knowledge that Eppie is the daughter of Godfrey Cass and his secret wife who died in the snow. The fact that no one knows of this situation, besides Godfrey, are the source of much irony and eventually the climax of the novel. Another example f dramatic irony is that the reader knows, from the minute of its occurrence, that the robbery is the doing of Dunstan Cass. However, no one in the novel is presented with these details. This concealing of information is the source of much irony within Silas Marner.
Along with point of view, literary devices are used to create and develop characters throughout Silas Marner. The use of speech is the most prevalent device found within the novel. The speech patterns of the "common man" are noticeably different from those of the "proper.
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The frequent use of literary devices like similes also added to the characterization created in Silas Marner. His character was the most common used in the characterization. Early on in the novel, his eyes were said to be "set like a dead man's"(Elliot, 8). He was totally out of his senses at this point. This depiction of Silas is very effective in portraying his outlook on life. He sees life as dark, meaningless, as a dead man would. Using this literary device is a very effective way to get a character trait to really come to life and not seem just like a grouping of words.
George Elliot's keen sense of human nature and human emotions enabled her to create characters that appeal to the readers' hearts. Her main character, Silas Marner, is a prime example of this human understanding. Silas' experiences in the early part of the novel allow the reader to sympathize with what he is feeling. His feelings of doubt and bitterness towards many are rooted in these early experiences. His past was that of betrayal and abandonment from his friend William, and the church to which he was faithful and devout. These events transform Silas into a man distrusting of men and bitter toward the Church. He is too bitter and even scared of what could happen.
Silas's character is transformed into a bitter man due to these circumstances and it is enhanced even more when he is robbed for a second time. This time it was not of his dignity though, it was money which he had come to love more than anything in the world. He depended on his money, but used it for nothing. Rather, he kept it hidden and was miserly. He loved to just look at it and count it. It overtook his hear, and when it was stolen, he was broken and even more bitter. As far as he saw it, his life was meaningless and hopeless. However, light soon shone on his life and brought hope to his eyes with the coming of little Eppie into his life.
The turning point of the novel occurred when Eppie walked through Silas' door and into his life. I was at this point that the renaissance occurred. He was reborn into a world that was not so bad after all. Hope and love did exist now. Silas' feelings of bitterness towards God as a vindictive authority figure were erased, because he saw Eppie coming into his life as the salvation that he deserved after all of the hardships he had endured. With Eppie's presence in his life, he finally begins toe see the goodness in men and in all of life that he once knew. Eppie provided Silas with someone he could depend on for support. Everything had been taken away from him. He had finally gotten something in return, and he was sure no one would take her away from him.
Eppie's role in Silas Marner is to provoke change in others. She changed Silas' life incredibly and made him into a person capable of love again. Her character is discussed the least of all the main roles. Her job is to provide change, so no need exists to know about her as a person. Elliot never even attempts to make her seem as if she is exceptional or even special, outside of Silas' feelings for her. Throughout most of the novel, she is just a little girl and is normal in her words and actions. However, her importance grows as she does.
When Eppie becomes a young woman, she is faced with an incredible decision. Godfrey Cass presents to all that she is actually his own, biological daughter. Her character is then given an incredible amount of importance. She has the opportunity to choose which father she desires- Silas, the loving, caring individual, or Godfrey, the wealthy and somewhat selfish individual. This is the climax of the novel. She shows her deep affection and gratitude for Silas in choosing to stay with him. Eppie's main importance in the novel is this choice and its effect on Silas and Godfrey.
Godfrey Cass is a character who is characterized through his self-involvement and his cowardice. He rarely thinks of others and is always doing what is best for him. This is shown in the beginning of the novel when the reader is presented with the information of his daughter to the drug dependent woman. He keeps his child and marriage a secret to all, because it would ruin his "high-class" reputation and his life. His baby girl and wife are kept in silence while living in a poverty stricken slum. The conditions are incredibly rotten and not suitable for a child. However, he chooses to save his reputation instead of his daughter and wife. This selfishness and ignorance lead to the death of his wife, and nearly his daughter. Eppie was saved at the hands of Silas.
Godfrey's selfishness is displayed again in the novel when he tells Eppie that he is her real father. He ran out of her life when she was born and cared nothing for her. She was a burden. Silas then saw her as a beautiful gift, a salvation in his life. He cared for her and loved her. Yet, Godfrey swept into the scene only when he discovered that his wife could not give him a child of his own. He cared nothing for Silas' feelings, but tried to act as if he were acting out of love for Eppie. This action was incredibly transparent and Eppie was able to see through it. She chose to stay with Silas, and Godfrey was not given what he wanted. For the first time in his life, he could not have it his way. Godfrey would die childless, and the Cass name would also die.
George Elliot created her novel, Silas Marner, to appeal to natural human understanding. Her characters are normal people whom anyone can recognize. Whether one is a humble outcast from society, an orphaned child, or an upper class aristocrat, some aspect of this novel will allow the reader to identify with. Silas Marner is a novel that attempts to teach a story about life. It attempts to ask who knows what is good? Who knows what is bad? Silas' robbery was a horrible event in his mind, but then Eppie proved to be much better than all the money which was lost. It proves occurrences that seem bad may not always be as bad as they seem.