In the following essay, I will be examining the way in which George Eliot has portrayed the theme of money in Silas Marner and its consequent effect on the characters, the relationship between them, and the plot. George Eliot herself described Silas Marner as a story of old fashioned village life and as such, it has long been a favourite amongst her novels. It combines comments on morality and religion in a narrative of life in England during the artisan industry.
The story centres around the weaver of Raveloe, Silas Marner whom before experiencing the events that had a major effect on his life was just an honest individual well integrated in the church community in Lantern Yard and eagerly awaiting his wedding day. All of this, however, was to take a dramatic turn for the worse when he was framed by William Dane (who he thought was his best friend) and was said to have stolen money from the dying deacon whom he was supposed to watch. Silas was later falsely accused and consequently found guilty by the lots.
His friend who betrays and blames him for the murder steals his love, Nancy Lammeter, whom he was eagerly awaiting to wed, from him. These events are the basis for the motivation of Silas’ alienation from society, as Eliot describes on page 11 when writing “… the past becomes dreamy because its symbols have all vanished, and the present too dreamy because it is linked with no memories,” and rejects his faith in God and evangelical beliefs. As a means of escape, he takes up weaving, as a reprieve from his inner pain and suffering.
The second chapter finds Silas fleeing to Lantern Yard, escaping from the misfortunes experienced. Eliot follows this up when writing “In the early ages of the world, we know, it was believed that each territory was inhabited and ruled by its own divinities, so that man could cross the bordering heights and be out of the reach of his native Gods… ” In other words, the trust Silas previously had in faith and in the church had turned to bitterness. No longer was his trust in the Lord present in his disintegrating life.
Here he leads a ‘half-life’ in Raveloe alone in his loom… and his gold which becomes his obsessive endeavour before later being replaced by the gold haired Eppie, helping to reawaken Silas to society. As far as the event of Lantern Yard goes William Dane, Silas’ best friend steals the dying deacons money in order to win the heart of Silas’ long time love, Sarah Lammeter and consequently land his friend into hot water. This fate is devastating for Silas, disappointed in friendship and love, and therefore opting to depart Lantern Yard and society as a whole.
His gold now becomes the object of his work, and nothing but weaving his loom day and night in order to earn more of the gold matters. Eliot admits, “money had stood him as the symbol of earthly good, and the immediate object of toil… His life had reduced itself to the mere functions of weaving and hoarding, without any contemplation of an end towards which the functions tended”. Money, therefore, in this case is a replacement for all that is missing from Silas’ life and a means of filling the spiritual void left by the abandonment of religion.
Money is portrayed as a replacement for human contact and faith in God. The next two chapters see Eliot turning her attention to the Cass family, whom we learn, is a wealthy, prominent family of nobles headed by Squire Cass. The importance of money to Dunstan, who is portrayed as a mischievous, spiteful fellow and second born son of the Cass family, is made evident in Chapter 4. Here he resorts to stealing Silas’ gold in an attempt to comfort his own brother’s (Godfrey) financial troubles.
He is forced into committing this robbery after the horse (Wildfire) which his brother Godfrey originally allowed Dunstan to sell in order to solve their financial troubles, dies tragically. While it is Dunstan who uses this to his own advantage by threatening to tell his father of Godfrey’s secret marriage to Molly Farren, it is his older brother who ends up in the predicament with his father for owing debts in the first place. The proposed plan was for was for Dunstan to sell Wildfire to a friend of the family, which he agreed to after a generous offer.
Inside Dunstan’s mind, on the other hand, he thinks that a greater profit would be assembled should the horse be entered into a dog hunt. Subsequently and tragically, disaster strikes during the hunt with the horse falling into a pit, leading to its untimely death. The result was contrary to expectation and the catastrophe only acknowledges the fate of the money’s adversity and how in the most improbable of circumstances it can cause great distress. Dunstan’s opportunist state of mind when entering the horse for the race portrays the elements of greed and arrogance convincingly.
Neglecting the demand from a trustworthy family member for the horse, Dunstan opted as an alternative to enter Wildfire into a race, identifying the opportunity of making some extra money and thus grabbing the opportunity with both hands. On the other hand, we can look at Dunstan’s actions sympathetically. He was, after all in a predicament of having to lend a helping hand in paying back his brothers debts. The misfortune of money is further confirmed through Dunstan’s next little misadventure, not merely for himself, however, but coincidentally for Silas.
These subsequent events find Dunstan paying the absent Silas’ house a visit, at first hoping the lonely weaver will compassionately loan him a sum of his money. However, when later discovering Silas’ absence he realises that there is nothing there to prevent him from simply stealing the gold, which he does without hesitation. At this stage of the novel, we cannot help but speculate as to the consequent effect the event will have on Silas and how he will go about dealing with it. Money at this point is his only passion and comfort and it’s absence would be devastating, to say the least.
Eliot, however, decides to firstly examine the effect Dunstan’s actions have on his brother Godfrey. He was already in distress before observing the event of Wildfires untimely death, which Eliot emphasises in Chapter 3 when stating “The Yoke a man creates for himself by wrong doing will breed hate in the kindliest nature, and the good humoured, affectionate-hearted Godfrey Cass, was fast becoming a bitter man, visited by cruel wishes, that seemed to enter again, like demons who had found in him a ready garnished home. The statement emphasises the dilemma in which Godfrey found himself. He was turning from a kind, affectionate-hearted individual into a bitter man. It is interesting to note this, given that Godfrey appears to be following his brother’s example. Godfrey however is later enlightened by Bryce, the man whom Dunstan made the deal with the horse, about his brother’s mischievous goings outraging Godfrey and destined to provoke revenge. The importance of money is now greater than ever as Godfrey is in a difficult situation without money and guidance to pay off his debts.
We at this point feel great pity for the man because he emerges as the most tormented party with little responsibility for the unruly consequence the money has brought. It is Godfrey’s debts that are waiting to be paid off and his brother’s actions have done little to comfort his cause. Eliot also makes the point known that great enthusiasm for money can lead to sin and dispute within a family, contrasted through the stealing of Silas’ money by Dunstan and the separation and drawing together of two brothers (Dunstan and Godfrey).
In Chapter 12, we are told more about the relationship between Godfrey and Molly Farren, whom he has married without consulting his father, who in contradiction believes that Dunstan should marry a more sober Nancy Lammeter. Godfrey himself tells his wife that he would “sooner die than acknowledge her as his wife. ” This consequently leads to her own premeditated act of vengeance on New Year’s day which would have seen her confront Godfrey and his family about their secret marriage should it not have ended in disaster.
Again, the idea of money as an ultimate evil is made evident here as Molly’s innocence leads to her unlikely death, when she falls into a pit of snow. The incident contrasts the death of ‘Wildfire’ as both the horse and Molly Farren were the innocent parties in the plot’s outcome. I will now turn my attentions back to Silas. We learn from Chapter 5 that Silas’ decision to leave his home unattended and unlocked was simply a routine errand, briefly leaving the cabin. He did not lock the door because after fifteen years of this pattern of living, any alteration, such as a robbery, seemed almost incomprehensible.
In the same chapter, we become familiar with the irony of it all given that the incident of the theft occurred only after 15 years of Silas living in Raveloe. Just before Silas’ discovery of the lost gold Eliot writes, “Supper was his favourite meal, because it came at this time of revelry when his heart warmed over his gold. ” Despite the fact that Silas’ love for gold grew Eliot nevertheless still emphasises in Chapter 5 that his truthful, simple soul could not beget any vice injurious to others. “Joy is the best of wine, and Silas’ guineas were a golden wine of that sort”.
Was it the cruel power that no hands could reach, which had delighted into making him a second time desolate? ” Eliot tells of the terror of the missing gold. The fact that money was Silas’ whole life was even more devastating when Dunstan took it away from him. In Lantern Yard, money was insignificant to Silas but gold later became the object of his work, and nothing else but weaving his loom day and night in order to earn more of the money mattered. Eliot justifies this in Chapter 1 when writing “… ike the weaving and satisfaction of hunger, subsisting quite aloof from the life of belief and love from which he had been cut off. ” Silas’ obsession is further clarified in Chapter 2 by Eliot when she admits “money had stood to him as a symbol of earthly good, and the immediate object of toil… His life had reduced itself to the mere functions of weaving and hoarding, without any contemplation of an end towards which the functions tended. ” Silas’ gold guineas had become a sort of faith or religion as the more he worked as a weaver the more gold was made and the more pleasure he got from counting it.
Eliot considerably builds the suspense at this point as the thieving of the gold leaves you oblivious as to what his subsequent actions will be. You can’t help but think that he will be broken down mentally, but on the other hand you feel that this would have too much of a burden to the plot. This therefore leaves you in a state of apprehension as speculation and frenzy further mounts as to what will happen. The seventh chapter begins with Silas entering the Rainbow Bar, confronting those he sees there with the apparent robbery of the gold.
This is the first time many of the residents have seen Silas out of his “shell”. The opinion concerning the robbery of the gold is divided amongst the people. Some are sceptical while others offer a helping hand in sympathy. Here we sense a positive side effect to the whole situation by recognising Silas’ need to communicate with the others in order to get his gold back, after being alienated for so long. Money at this point appears to be the cause of his reintegration to society after earlier being the subject of his alienation.
Eliot admits that Silas is being forced to open himself up in order to ask for help when writing “This strangely novel situation of opening his trouble to his Raveloe neighbours, of sitting in the warmth of a heart not his own, and feeling in the presence of faces and voices which were his nearest promise of help, had doubtless its influence on Marner, in spite of his passionate preoccupation with his loss… ” Even the villagers in Chapter 10 show a positive attitude and are willing to comfort him by visiting his cottage and bringing gifts.
When asked, however, to attend a church service and seek refuge in his faith Silas refuses, already disillusioned with the religion he had formerly trusted in. The same chapter finds Silas in deep mourning over the robbery. He is described as a man more confused and desolate than ever, spending most of his time bent over in a chair, holding his head in his hands. I feel some sympathy for Silas at this stage because his decision to leave the door unlocked only reflected the confidence he had in his judgement over the town’s residents in the past 15 years.
His unfit state of mind even before the incident was partly responsible for his greed and reasoning love for his gold. He was let down in friendship and the trust once had in his evangelical beliefs had also vanished. The significant quote in this chapter is “The loom was there, and the weaving, and the growing pattern in the cloth, but the bright treasure in the hole under his feet was gone, the prospect off handling and counting it was gone: the evening had no phantasm of delight to still the poor soul’s craving,” detailing Silas’ mourning over the robbery of his gold.
It is not however until the unexpected appearance of the gold haired Eppie in chapter 12 that Silas is reawakened to society. The child toddles to Silas’ house after Molly had fallen into the snow. It appears that fate has compensated Silas in this time of despair with Eppie transforming his reclusive life into one full of love and newfound happiness. His attention has now turned to Eppie, a person to love, and thus helping Silas to understand a mutual connection with something other than his gold.
Ironic to note that fate has turned the gold haired Eppie into Silas’ newfound love and happiness metaphorically replacing his previous ambition of gold. Eliot thus portrays Eppie as a sort of metaphor and writes how fate has blessed Silas with his miracles. The point Eliot is trying to make is that the love for a human being is more fulfilling than the love of money. Ironic also because one member of the Cass family took Silas’ gold while the other gave Silas his daughter. Eliot portrays very well the concept than man cannot live in a vacuum all his life.
Though Silas finds some satisfaction in his tenacious weaving and hoarding of gold, he only discovers true happiness after he dedicates himself to inter-personal relationships. Though his exile from Lantern Yard proves devastating to his self confidence and trust in others and God, fifteen years later when Silas makes a full recovery adopting Eppie to replace his loss of money with love of a daughter. The fact that Lantern Yard has disappeared years later when Silas and Eppie go to visit it suggests that the town no longer dear to Silas.
In fact, the removal of the town serves as a metaphor for Silas’s ability to find happiness outside the past. This makes sense because since the weaver has recovered and Eppie has opened his eyes to the reality of the world again, his soul is no longer separate from his body. On the other side, we have the Cass family, a wealthy upper class group showing that money can buy you no happiness, as the selfish scoundrels of Dunstan and Godfrey do not get their own way.
As a wealthy Godfrey (Eppie’s natural father), a victim of circumstance who disclaimed the child tries to claim her back at the age of 18 she refuses. Eliot strongly emphasises the point here that nurture wins over nature and that Godfrey, with all his money, cannot buy the one thing that would bring him and Nancy happiness, a child to love. For Silas, Eppie is seen as the fulfilment of natural justice.
Silas says, “God gave her to me because you turned your back on her, and he looks upon her as mine you’ve no right to her! When a man turns a blessing from his door, it falls to them as take it in”, acknowledging that Silas should be the father rather than Godfrey. We learn that money is one of the central themes of the book with Eliot leaving many morals to comprehend concerning it’s ‘weaving’ together of the lives of various characters and being one of the main factors of the novel and in truth everyday life to this day.