Silas Marner by George Eliot: Summary, Analysis & Characters

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  • 0:01 Background
  • 0:35 The Main Characters
  • 1:57 Part One, Chapters 1-7
  • 3:47 Part One, Chapters 8-15
  • 6:04 Summary of Part Two
  • 7:47 Analysis of the Novel
  • 8:24 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Debbie Notari
In this lesson, we will be introduced to the touching story of Silas Marner, a weaver who turns from a life of greed to a life of generosity. This story has a strong redemptive theme - it is a tale of loyalty, forgiveness, and adoptive love.

Background on the Novel and the Author

The complete title of this novel by George Eliot is Silas Marner: The Weaver of Raveloe. George Eliot was the pen name of Mary Ann Evans, who wanted to be anonymous due to her long affair with George Henry Lewes. She did not want her readers to focus on the rumors surrounding her love life. She also wanted to be taken seriously as a writer, which was not always possible for a woman during that period. Eliot published Silas Marner in 1861.

The Main Characters

Let's take a look at the main characters in the story.

  • Silas Marner is the protagonist of the story. His vocation is a weaver, and he is under suspicion from his neighbors because he moved to the village of Raveloe later in life, and because people were superstitious about his skillful abilities. He doesn't see very well and is a miser at the beginning of the novel.
  • Godfrey Cass, the oldest son of the village squire, is in love with one woman, Nancy Lammeter, and married secretly to another, a drug addict named Molly Farren. His evil brother, Dunstan, blackmails him.
  • Dunstan (Dunsey) Cass, the younger of Squire Cass's two sons, is evil in nature and loves tormenting his older brother, Godfrey. He is aware of his weak-willed other brother's marriage to Molly Farren and blackmails him.
  • Molly Farren is the secret wife of Godfrey Cass and a drug addict.
  • Nancy Lammeter is a good woman who marries Godfrey Cass later in the story.
  • Eppie is the daughter of Molly Farren and Godfrey Cass and is adopted by Silas Marner. She transforms Silas Marner's life.
  • Squire Cass is the father of Godfrey and Dunstan Cass and very wealthy. He is a less-than-admirable character and a poor father.

Summary of Part One, Chapters 1-7

Imagine a weaver, working alone in a simple cottage. He is a stranger to Raveloe, and because no one knows him, he is under suspicion. The sound of his spindle causes his simple neighbors to suspect that he is under the influence of the Devil. This nearsighted man, Silas Marner, doesn't like to be disturbed. He suffers from a physical ailment, and occasionally has 'cataleptic fits,' which leave him seemingly unconscious. Most likely, he suffered from epilepsy. In his youth, he was jilted by his love and betrayed by his best friend, so he carries his hurt like a cloak. He works for and loves gold, which he keeps in an iron pot and counts nightly.

In these chapters, we are introduced to Squire Cass, the wealthiest man in Raveloe. He is a widower with two sons, Godfrey and Dunstan, or 'Dunsey.' Godfrey is well-liked and yet weak in nature. He is courting a lovely woman, Nancy Lammeter. Dunstan gambles and drinks and is blackmailing Godfrey. Godfrey is secretly married to Molly Farren, a drug addict, but he loves Nancy Lammeter. Dunstan makes Godfrey pay him, or he will tell the Squire about Molly.

At this point in the story, Godfrey has used money from a tenant to pay off Dunstan, but the Squire wants the money. Godfrey is not sure what to do. Dunstan offers to sell Godfrey's horse, Wildfire, and Godfrey reluctantly agrees. But Dunstan foolishly kills Wildfire by jumping a fence which pierces the horse. Dunstan panics and, upon entering Silas Marner's cottage and, finding him gone, steals his gold.

Silas Marner discovers that his gold is missing and feels terrified. He ventures into town to a pub called the Rainbow, and tells the townsmen he has been robbed.

Summary of Part One, Chapters 8-15

The whole village is abuzz with the news of the robbery, but no one can figure out who did it. Then one of Godfrey's friends tells him about the death of his horse, Wildfire. Godfrey decides to tell his father about the money and the horse. His father reprimands him, but Godfrey still hides his marriage to Molly from his father. Silas Marner is devastated by his loss but receives sympathy from his neighbors.

On New Year's Eve, Squire Cass throws his yearly party for the whole town. Dunstan still has not returned home. At the party, Godfrey tries to further woo Nancy, though she is not sure of his character and withholds her affections.

In the meantime, we see a pitiful woman walking through the streets of Raveloe, carrying a child. It is Molly Farren, and the child belongs to her and Godfrey. But Molly, addicted to opium, stumbles and sleeps in the freezing weather. Her little one sees Silas Marner's cottage and enters it.

When Marner wakes up from a daze, he sees the golden hair of the child by the fire and thinks at first that it is his gold! He realizes his mistake and begins to care for the child. He later discovers Molly's dead body in the snow. Marner goes to the party at Squire Cass's home and tells the villagers about the dead woman. Godfrey is aware that the child is his, and he is relieved to hear of Molly's death. Silas insists on keeping the child, so things are looking up for Godfrey.

Silas Marner raises the child on his own and names her Eppie. Eppie has given him something to live for. In fact, there is some indication that Eppie 'saves' Silas Marner, as Chapter 14 states:

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