I see a morality tale as a story or fable that is designed and constructed purely in order to put across a strong moral message, which is cleverly woven into a story which would appeal to readers. This story may be a representation of real life like Silas Marner, or instead, just metaphors for life in general. The word “simple”, however, implies that the fable perhaps doesn’t get right to the heart of the characters or the plot, possibly not describing anything in great detail, but achieving its primary aim of preaching a moral message nonetheless.
Silas Marner” has many aspects which could be seen as a “morality tale”, however there are also other elements which I believe do not conform to this. George Eliot lived from 1819 to 1880, a time when the Romantic period was flourishing. The Romantics, for example William Wordsworth and Emily Bronte, had a very strong set of beliefs which would have naturally influenced the context of Eliot’s novels. These ideas included the belief that man has the ability to be good, and if you are taken away from nature, and natural impulses, then you become almost unnatural.Order now
In this particular novel, Silas Marner is the character that puts across these views on life. After being found guilty of a crime he did not commit, Silas has a “shaken trust in God and man which is little short of madness to a loving nature”. Because of this, Marner retracts himself completely from any social gatherings, and in doing so, away from nature. He then becomes unnatural in the way that he becomes obsessed with his gold.
He spread them out in heaps and bathed his hands in them; then he counted them and set them up in regular piles, and felt their rounded outline between his thumb and fingers, and thought fondly of the guineas that were only half-earned by the work in his loom, as if they had been unborn children”. In Part I, Silas Marner has become addicted to hoarding gold, because of the fact that he had been wrenched from the loving hands of Mother Nature. This is the image that the Romantic authors put across in many of their novels.
Another example of this is Scrooge, in Charles Dickens’, “A Christmas Carol”. He, again, is a miser, living solely for his work, never really experiencing nature in all its glory. Another theme that novelists of this period were interested in, was the innocence, purity, and cleansing power of childhood. This is reflected in an extremely strong way in this particular novel, through the character of Eppie. Silas has been an embittered man for fifteen years of his life.
Nothing has given enough to make him change, until the arrival of Godfrey Cass’ child. “As the child’s mind was growing into knowledge, his mind was growing into memory; as her life unfolded, his soul, long stupefied in a cold narrow prison, was unfolding too, and trembling gradually into full consciousness”. Silas has been almost locked in confinement for fifteen years, with nothing happening to bring him back into the real world, however, in the end, it is the benevolence of a child that awakens him.
Eliot comments at this point that “men are led away from threatening destructions: a hand is put into theirs which leads them forth gently towards a calm and bright land, so that they look no more backward; and the hand may be a little child’s. This describes perfectly what has happened to Silas. Through this, Eliot is preaching her message about the healing qualities of children. Even how the child arrived at Silas’ house showed how innocent children are.
Eppie “toddled through the snow, the old grimy shawl in which it was wrapped trailing behind it, and the queer little bonnet dangling at its back – toddled on to the open door of Silas Marner’s cottage, and right up to the warm hearth, where there was a bright fire of logs and sticks”. By describing the arrival of Eppie in this way, George Eliot is saying that children are so benevolent that despite their innocence, they are attracted towards warmth and brightness.
Eliot, like other writers of the period was also interested in discussing ideas about class, and the pride, selfishness, social pretentions and patronising attitudes of the landed gentry. She does this perfectly through the character of Squire Cass, describing him as “slovenly”, and with a “slack and feeble mouth”. “His person showed marks of habitual neglect”, and his life was “quite as idle as his sons”. The author is trying to say that the aristocracy are rich and squandering, arrogant and demanding, yet at the same time they do nothing and earn respect.
By doing this, Eliot is almost making us side with the working class in my opinion. People like Silas Marner, who work hard for their money, George Eliot makes us sympathise with, by adding comments like “poor Marner”, and the fact that he has a “deer-like gaze which belongs to large prominent eyes”. There is another special way in which George Eliot helps to communicate these ideas, and she does so very effectively. In certain cases, she can’t help herself but to make a comment about the issues herself, coming out of the third person narrative, and into her own ideas on life.
For example, when describing the monotony of Silas’ life, and the harmful effect that mechanisation of life can have, Eliot says, “Do we not wile away moments of inanity or fatigued waiting by repeating some trivial movement or sound, until the repetition has bred a want, which is incipient habit? “. Another example of this, is when the author comments that it is “the superstitious impression which clings to us all that if we expect evil very strongly it is the less likely to come”. One final example of this is when George Eliot has come to a point in the novel when she thinks it appropriate to add her own comment about neighbourhood.
She says, “I suppose one reason why we are seldom able to comfort our neighbours with our words is that our good will gets adulterated, in spite of ourselves, before it can pass our lips. This shows that Eliot really believes in the ideas or themes that she is preaching about, and assures me that some elements of the novel conform to a morality tale. However, I wouldn’t go as far to say that “Silas Marner” is a “simple” morality tale. The reason being that despite the fact that the main plot line is extremely moralistic, many aspects of the plot are more complex than would be expected for a simple tale.
For example, at the beginning of the novel, we are introduced to two distinct plots. Firstly, Silas and his move to Raveloe, and secondly, the Cass family and their troubles. These plots then collide later on, after Dunstan Cass steals Silas’ gold, which then allows the reader to observe how the characters react. Not only are there two plots, but they are both described in immense detail. Other aspects of the novel which Eliot gives large amounts of detail to, include the setting. She describes Lantern Yard as a place of “narrow and restricted vision”, and is a “narrow religious sect”.
There is a lot more detailed description of this setting as well as of Raveloe. “Raveloe was a village where many of the old echoes lingered, undrowned by new voices”. “It was an important looking village, with a find old church and large churchyard in the heart of it, and two or three large brick-and-stone homesteads, with well-walled orchards and ornamental weathercocks, standing close upon the road, and lifting more imposing fronts than the rectory, which peeped from among the trees on the other side of the churchyard – a village which showed at once the summits of its social life”.
You would not expect this amount of detail, as well as many other pages on Raveloe, in a tale set out purely to teach a message. The other main aspect of “Silas Marner” that George Eliot also describes in extensive detail is the characters. In a simple morality tale, the characters might be very bland and straightforward, with the author only describing the bits that have relevance to the moral message. Eliot, however, describes everything about each of her main characters.
For example, the author describes Godfrey Cass as “a fine open-faced, good-natured young man who was to come into the land some day” who “should take to going along the same road as his brother, as he had seemed to do of late”. “He didn’t look half so fresh-coloured and open as he used to do. ” This is just a selection of her character analysis, but more about Godfrey is included throughout the book. Dunstan, in contrast, is described as “a spiteful, jeering fellow, who seemed to enjoy his drink the more when other people went dry – always provided that his doings did not bring trouble on a family like Squire Cass’s”.
Even in this one sentence, George Eliot gets across the personality of Dunstan, and throughout the rest of the novel, she goes into a lot of depth on the character, and indeed the others. Finally on the characters, George Eliot also develops some of her characters, for example, Godfrey. He changes from a weak man who has been brought up without a woman in his life, and is almost persuaded by his brother to become like him, into a caring and loving human. This happens gradually through his meeting of Nancy Lammeter and realisation of Eppie.
All this description on the plot, the settings, and the development of the characters would not be included at all in simple morality tales, meaning that “Silas Marner” is not just a straightforward simple tale. Eliot’s use of dialogue is also very unlike a simple morality tale. She spends a lot of the time including conversation between the characters which doesn’t have much to do with her themes. This is very realistic of life, and realism is something which authors of simple tales are not concerned about, as long as they get their moral stance across.
For example, the whole of Chapter 5, “Conversation in the Rainbow”, is dedicated to adding an element of realism to the novel, with traditional villagers sharing anecdotes to pass the time, very typical of a village pub. Therefore, I believe that “Silas Marner” is a morality tale. I believe this, as George Eliot has included some very obvious themes which she definitely wants to put across to her readers and make them think about her views. The main ones include the healing powers of childhood portrayed by Eppie, the healing powers of love and relationships shown by the characters of Godfrey and Nancy, class, and natural impulses.
These ideas are put across in a way similar to that of a fable. Also, the fact that Eliot was alive during the time of the romantics, who had a very strong set of beliefs, adds to this. However on the other hand, the author describes everything, including the plot and development of the characters in tremendous amounts of detail which would certainly not be found in a simple morality tale. Even though I believe Eliot set out to preach moral messages in a fable-like way, she has woven these themes around a detailed story, which is far from simple.
In conclusion, “Silas Marner” is a complex, yet powerful morality tale, which has had a great amount of detail and effort put into it, to make it as realistic as possible, far more realistic than any other fables. In my opinion, the themes in particular of “Silas Marner” would definitely interest a typical audience of today. The main example of a topical theme is the harmful effects of industrialisation. When Silas seeks his past in Lantern Yard, and discovers that it has been swept away, Eliot puts her views on industrialisation across very strongly.
She describes the modernised Lantern Yard as having “grim walls” and being a “dark, ugly place”. “It smells bad”, and the residents are unfriendly. For example, “a sallow, begrimed face looked out from a gloomy doorway at the strangers”, and the whole town is a “multitude of strange indifferent faces”. It is clear that from this description that George Eliot is against any modernisation of rural communities, in turn, not in favour of the industrial revolution. She does this even more powerfully by making Eppie, with the pure and innocent qualities of a child, detest it all as well.
Eppie comments that it’s “like as if I’m stifled” and she describes the man as having a “sallow, begrimed face”. She is full of “uneasiness” at the situation, because the humanity and individuality of the town has been removed. Eppie reflects exactly the mind of George Eliot. Another factor that a modern day audience would be interested in, are the attitudes of the novelist to religion, which is mainly shown through the two main settings, Lantern Yard and Raveloe. Eliot had a varied life, and during it, she experimented with many different views of life.
By doing this, she experience different views on religion, like I’m sure many people would do nowadays. There is no doubt that Lantern Yard is a “narrow religious sect”, and Eliot does not agree. She shows this when Silas is tried for his crime, by the drawing of lots. She is sceptical of this blind faith in God, which presides over any humane decisions. The people in this town meaninglessly visited church, constantly believing that God was their only guide in life. Eliot is a lot more in favour of the way of life in Raveloe, where villagers see the church as a key part in social customs, and their attitude is Christian in the true sense.
George Eliot is certainly encourages scepticism about religion, making the readers think for themselves on different ideas about religion, and this would, without a doubt, be interesting for a modern audience. “Silas Marner” is an intriguing novel written by an intriguing author, which can be read on many different levels. The plots, characters, and general structure of it is complex, and the themes are varied and filled with moral messages. This novel had, and still has a strong message for its readers, past and present.