Silas Marnerby George Eliot
Silas Marner is an excellent selection for classroom study in the high school. While its length is manageable for most students, this novel is exemplary in structure, featuring intertwined major and minor plots. Likewise, various literary devices – such as foreshadowing, flashback, symbolism, irony, and characterization – are skillfully employed yet easily comprehended by young readers. However, these technical matters should not be the major focus of instruction.
The setting is remote from the lives of today’s readers, just as it was somewhat quaint at the time it was written. Rather than being a limitation, this fact exemplifies the timeless nature of Silas Marner’s themes, which provide the strongest arguments for its study by today’s young people.
There are dual plots, which proceed independently, touch, intertwine, and support one another, both structurally and thematically. Silas’s story of faith in humanity being lost and regained is made whole through the story of the Cass brothers.
The themes themselves are interconnected, just as the plot lines merge and are mutually supportive. The importance of individual responsibility, both to oneself and to others, is examined, as are the respective roles of fate and the consequence of conscious choices. These issues are mingled with the contrast between materialism and human values. All these matters are set against differing social classes. The themes can no more be isolated and listed than can the plots be disentangled and retain their force. This intricate meshing of components marks Silas Marner as a deftly wrought work of art.
This teacher’s guide contains an overview, followed by teaching suggestions to be used before, during, and after reading the novel. There are activities, discussion questions, and topics for writing assignments. Some of the ideas are designed to extend the student’s learning beyond the novel, including ways to understand and apply its themes.
List of Characters
Silas Marner – Weaver around whom the story revolves. He is pale and has protuberant brown eyes. He is a simple and humble man, single-minded in working for a purpose – first his religion in Lantern Yard, then for his gold, and finally for his adopted daughter Eppie.
William Dane – "Friend" who betrayed the young Silas in Lantern Yard.
Molly Farren – Drug-addicted, secret wife of Godfrey Cass, with whom she had the daughter later adopted by Silas.
Eppie – Daughter of Godfrey Cass and Molly Farren. She was adopted and so named by Silas Marner.
Squire Cass – Holder of the highest position in Raveloe society. A solid, gruff man of "extravagant habits and bad husbandry," generally lax in family matters.
Godfrey Cass – Eldest son of the Squire. "A fine, open-faced, good-natured young man," but weak-willed, irresolute, and lacking in moral stamina.
Dunstan Cass – Second son of the Squire. "A spiteful, jeering fellow," thickset, heavy looking, selfish, and dishonest.
Mr. Lammeter – A tall, erect, dignified gentleman. Father of Nancy and Priscilla Lammeter.
Nancy Lammeter – The village beauty, delicate and dainty, but efficient and hardworking. Although a bit prim and proper, she also is generous and loving to her family and her husband Godfrey.
Priscilla Lammeter – Talkative elder sister of Nancy. Plain but cheerful, with good humor and a generous spirit.
Mr. Crackenthrop – The rector, who was "a merry-eyed, small-feature, gray-haired man."
Mrs. Crackenthrop – His wife, "a small, blinking woman, who fidgeted incessantly."
Mr. Osgood – Head of the village’s oldest landowning family, and brother-in-law to Mr. Lammeter.
Mrs. Osgood – A lady of some formality in company, but devoted to her Lammeter nieces and quietly proud of her orderly husband.
Mr. Kimble – The apothecary and country doctor. A thin and agile man, "vivacious, clever, almost as devoted to his profession as to his game of cards."
Mrs. Kimble – A stout, double-chinned woman, good-natured and proud of her husband’s quick wit. Sister of Squire Cass.
Bryce and Keating – Dustan Cass fellow hunters.
Dolly Winthrop – The wheelwright’s wife and godmother to Eppie. A motherly, comfortable, neighborly goodwife, who is hardworking and content. She comforts Silas when his gold is taken, helps him raise Eppie, and guides him in becoming part of village life.
Aaron Winthrop – Dolly’s youngest son, the honest, hardworking young gardener whom Eppie marries.
Ben Winthrop – Dolly’s husband, the village wheelwright and leader of the church choir, and a regular at the Rainbow Inn.
Mr. Snell – Landlord of the Rainbow Inn, who was always careful to take both sides of an argument or none.
Bob Lundy - The butcher and cousin of Mr. Snell. "A jolly, smiling, red-haired man."
Mr. Dowlas - The farrier (veterinarian). "A man intensely opposed to compromise" and said to be "the negative spirit in the company, and proud of the position."
Mr. Tookey - Assistant tailor and deputy clerk of the parish. Generally the butt of the Rainbow crowd's jokes.
Mr. Macey - Elderly tailor and parish clerk. Full of village history and gossip, a man with "an air of complacency, slight seasoned with criticism."
Jem Rodney - Molecatcher and "a known poacher, and otherwise disreputable," whom Silas wrongly accuses of stealing the gold.
Solomon Macey - The tailor's brother, "a small, hale old man," who fiddled for the dances around the countryside.
Sally Oates - Cobbler's wife whom Silas cures.
Sarah - Girl to whom Silas had been engaged in Lantern Yard.
Master Kench - The constable.
Justice Malam - The magistrate.
SEQUENCE OF EVENTS
The major events in the novel are presented below, by chapter, to serve as a reference for the teacher.PART I
• The setting is presented, describing the times and the locale.
• Silas Marner is introduced and described.
• Silas is falsely accused and leaves Lantern Yard.
• Silas moves to Raveloe and hoards the earnings from his weaving for 15 years.
• As a result of his curing Sally Oates, the people of Raveloe consider him even more mysterious.
• Silas mends and keeps a small brown pot he has accidentally broken.
• Members of the Cass family are introduced and described.
• Dunstan blackmails Godfrey into selling his horse, Wildfire.
• Godfrey's past is revealed.
• Dunstan sells Wildfire and then causes the horse's death by careless riding during the hunt.
• Dunstan steals Silas' gold.
• Silas returns from an errand and discovers that his gold is missing.
• Silas suspects Jem Rodney and goes to the Rainbow Inn.
• Conversation among the community members at the Rainbow Inn.
• Silas enters the Rainbow Inn and accuses Jem Rodney.
• After learning that Jem had been at the Inn all evening, Silas apologizes to Jem and tells what he knows of the theft.
• It is decided to go to the ill constable's house to have one of the men deputized to begin an investigation.
• Dunstan fails to return home with the money from Wildfire's sale.
• The villagers talk about the theft.
• Godfrey learns about Wildfire's death.
• Godfrey contemplates confessing to his father.
• Godfrey tells his father, the Squire, about Wildfire.
• The Squire asks Godfrey about marrying Nancy Lammeter.
• The people of Raveloe become friendlier with Silas, talking with him in town, visiting him at home, and taking him small gifts.
• The Winthrop family is introduced, Dolly in particular, who comes to visit with her young son, Aaron. She offers to help Silas in his housekeeping if he ever needs it.
• Christmas Day is spent by families among themselves; Dunstan is still missing from the Cass family.
• The New Year's celebration at the Red House gets underway with the arrival of and exchanges among the female guests.
• As the party proceeds, the men make conversation mainly by independent remarks.
• Nancy and Godfrey dance, followed by a conversation marked by assertions and defenses.
• Molly comes to Raveloe to confront Godfrey and dies in the snow of a drug overdose.
• Molly's child follows the light from Silas's open cottage door and enters during his cataleptic trance.
• Silas regains consciousness, discovers the child, and shortly thereafter follows her tracks in the snow to her mother's body.
• The party continues well into the night when Silas enters the Red House with Molly and Godfrey's child.
• Soon after the doctor proclaims the child's mother dead, Godfrey secretly confirms that it is his wife, Molly.
• Godfrey returns to the party and determines to please Nancy and pursue her.
• Molly is buried with little ceremony.
• Silas undertakes raising Molly's child with help from Dolly Winthrop.
• Silas is clearly possessive of the child.
• The child is christened and named Eppie.
• Godfrey keeps an eye on Eppie.
• Dunstan is given up as gone forever.
• Sixteen years have passed since Eppie came into Silas' life.
• The effects of the passage of time on the main characters are described.
• Eppie gets Aaron to prepare a garden for her and Silas.
• Silas tells Dolly about his life in Lantern Yard.
• Eppie talks of marrying Aaron and their living with Silas.
• Nancy's sister, Priscilla, and their father join Godfrey and Nancy for Sunday dinner.
• As the sisters converse, it becomes clear that Nancy and especially Godfrey regret not having children. Godfrey has wanted to adopt, Nancy has not.
• Godfrey finds Dunstan's skeleton and returns to tell Nancy that his brother has drowned in the Stone Pit after robbing Silas.
• Godfrey goes on to confess his prior marriage and fatherhood of Eppie.
• Godfrey and Nancy decide to go together to Silas Marner's to make the truth known.
• Silas and Eppie discuss their lives after everyone has left, following the excitement of finding Dunstan's body.
• Nancy and Godfrey visit Silas and Eppie.
• Godfrey proposes taking Eppie into his home, an offer Eppie rejects.
• After Godfrey asserts his fatherhood and his plan to make Eppie a lady, Silas and Godfrey discuss what is best for Eppie.
• Eppie firmly and finally makes clear her intention to remain with Silas and working-class people.
• Nancy and Godfrey return in silence to discuss what life has given them to accept; Godfrey decides to keep his fatherhood a secret.
• Silas and Eppie return to Lantern Yard, where they find things have changed greatly. Silas' old life has been completely erased.
• Eppie and Aaron are married, followed by a reception at the Rainbow Inn, for which Godfrey has paid.