Silas Marner

Enhance reading comprehension with a with a guide that contains an overview, discussion questions, follow-up activities and suggestions to be used before, during, and after reading the novel, Silas Marner.
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Only after the entire novel has been read can a thorough consideration be given to the most meaningful issues it explores. Here are suggestions for following up on earlier activities and for the consideration of more general matters.

Follow-Up on Theme Activities

Before reading began, students were asked to respond to a number of questions. Now they can consider these same questions in relation to the novel and its characters. They also may wish to compare their earlier responses in light of their reading experience. Here is that list of questions:

• What are the consequences of being the victim of lies, gossip, or rumors?

• If you had three minutes to evacuate your home because of a fire, what would you try to save? Explain your choices.

• How does home environment influence people? Give examples.

• What is essential for happiness? Defend your choices.

• Some people are lucky, while others never have good fortune. True or false? Explain.

• What connections does social class have with happiness or with responsibility, both personal or social?

Follow-Up on Listing Activities

As students read the novel, they were asked to compile certain lists. Now they may consider the following questions in light of the novel and its characters. Students should share their individual lists and arrive at composite lists. Here are the questions to be considered in relation to each list:

• List each mention of (1) Molly Farren and (2) Godfrey's actions regarding her.

  1. What is your assessment of Godfrey in relation to Molly?
  2. Should Godfrey have confessed everything to Nancy before he asked her to marry him?
    • Make a list of the evidence of class distinction throughout the novel.
  3. What class distinctions are evident in our society today?
  4. Compare the distinctions made in the novel with those found today.
    • From time to time, George Eliot includes statements of general truths about life. Make a list of these statements.
  5. For each statement, explain how that truth operated in the novel.
  6. Cite examples of their operation in today's world.

Questions for Deeper Understanding

The following questions can be used as journal topics, essay topics, the basis for oral reports, or class discussion starters.

  1. What are the causes of social isolation?
  2. To what extent are these causes externally imposed? Self-imposed?
  3. What are the individual effects of social isolation? On the group from which the person is isolated?
  4. What are some examples of social isolation operating in our world and society today? Include examples of both group-imposed and self-imposed isolation. What are their intended purposes? What are their actual results?
  5. Generally speaking, people get what they deserve, for better or worse. True or false? Support your stand. To what degree did this rule apply to characters in this novel?
  6. Which characters underwent change? What brought about these changes?
  7. How would Molly's death be regarded today, and how would it be handled?
  8. How would the issues raised in this novel be modified if the setting were changed to the modern world?
  9. What are the respective roles of material wealth, social interaction, and social position in the attainment of happiness?
  10. What are the advantages and disadvantages of practicing deceit and secrecy? What public figures have you known to use such practices? What were the results?
  11. What are the benefits and consequences of accepting and meeting responsibilities? Cite examples of people who have either met or not met their responsibilities.
  12. It has been said that givers are enriched by giving. How did this principle operate in Silas Marner? In what way have you seen it work in your experience?
  13. To what extent are Godfrey's and Dunstan's shortcomings attributable to their home life? To their own irresponsibility? After what point should young people no longer attribute their difficulties to their parents or to society?
  14. On the subject of adoption, whom do you agree with more, Godfrey or Nancy? Why? To what extent do your reasons hold for adoption in general?
  15. It has been said that people need people. It this true? To what extent do people also need time to be alone? Why? What is a proper balance between these two needs?
  16. What role does fate play in our lives? To what extent do people command their own fate?

Additional Follow-Up Activities

Students should be given a choice of activities, which may be undertaken individually or in groups. At least one day can be set aside for performances and sharing of student products.

Writing Activities

  1. Rewrite the story of Silas Marner in a different time period. You may set it in the present or the future. Also, you may choose to rewrite only a particular event or segment of the story.
  2. Put together a cast for a film version of Silas Marner. The director-producer wants you, the casting director, to make recommendations. Decide who would be the actors. Include photos and descriptions of the stars and tell why each is "perfect" for the part. Write a report to convince the producer of your selections.
  3. Write letters that might have been sent between characters in Silas Marner or at some specified time in the future.
  4. Write a poem that one of the characters might have written. Make clear your understanding of the character's personality by writing a poem that expresses the way he or she feels about what is happening to him or her in the book.
  5. Write newspaper/TV news stories about main events in the novel. This activity may center on human interest stories or climactic events in the novel. A group of students could collaborate to create an entire special edition of The Raveloe Times.
  6. Write up an interview with George Eliot to publish in a magazine (such as Rolling Stone). Conduct research to find out all you can about George Eliot; then, base your interview questions and answers on the information you found. Include questions about George Eliot's background as well as about her writing. Examples: Tell me a little about yourself. Why did you write the story? Is the book based on personal experience or on a real person you have known?
  7. Imagine you are one of the main characters in Silas Marner. Write a diary that that person might have kept for a few days or weeks.
  8. Make a gift list for each of the major characters. Explain your reasons for giving particular gifts to particular characters. Gifts may be abstract or tangible.

Dramatic Activities

  1. Prepare and deliver or tape an editorial comment, as might be given on radio or TV, on actions of the characters and implications of that action for society. A variation of this would be to have a simulated "call-in" radio show with a newscaster accepting editorial comments from the listening audience.
  2. Have a panel of characters from Silas Marner debate a contemporary social or political issue from their differing viewpoints. All questions/viewpoints should be written out ahead of time.
  3. Dress and make up yourself as a character in Silas Marner. Prepare and present an original soliloquy that the character might give. A variation is to assume the role of a minor character and describe and react to a major character in the novel. Include responses, feelings, and biases that are appropriate to the minor character.

Arts & Crafts Activities

  1. Make a scale model of a scene or a setting in Silas Marner. Pay close attention to details given in the novel in order to create a realistic model. Silas' cottage by the Stone Pit, the Red House, or the Rainbow Inn are good subjects.
  2. Draw a map that illustrates the setting, follows the physical movement of a character(s), or traces the emotional growth of a character(s). Label important places or stages of character development. A variation is to build the map using flour paste with food coloring.
  3. Make a weaving or tapestry that portrays some aspect of Silas Marner. These may used as wall hangings.
  4. Make a diorama or shadow box depicting a setting, theme, or characters from Silas Marner. Shoe boxes are ideal for this project. Molly's death scene, the "staking" of Wildfire, and Eppie's wedding lend themselves well to this project.
  5. Convert the events of Silas Marner into a ballad or song. Write the lyrics and music, or adapt words to a melody by someone else.

Examining the Author's Craft

Students may be brought to some appreciation of Eliot's skill through a set of activities that can be completed in a relatively short time. What follows is a suggested activity for each of four literary elements and devices. A class may be divided into four groups, each undertaking one of these activities. Then each group can report its findings to the entire class.


List the events in the major plot, Silas' story. Next list the events in the minor plot, the Cass brothers' story. Then chart both of these story lines, showing the points where the two meet. (Because this may be the easiest of this set of activities, less able students could be assigned to it.)


Now that the events are known, skim over the novel and note as many examples of foreshadowing as you can. A few are noted below. (The ability of the students may dictate how many examples need to be given.)

• "Not that the idea of being robbed presented itself often or strongly to his mind..."

• The brown pot incident: "Yet even in this stage of withering a little incident happened, which showed that the sap of affection was not all gone."

• "...It'ud be saving time if Molly should happen to take a drop too much laudanum someday, and make a widower of you."

• "She's been threatening to come herself and tell him."

• "And take care to keep sober tomorrow, else you'll get pitched on your head coming home, and Wildfire might be the worse for it."

• "Dunstan's own recent difficulty in making his way suggested to him that the weaver had perhaps gone outside...and had slipped into the Stone Pit."

• "Before such calm external beauty the presence of a vague fear is more distinctly felt - like a raven flapping its slow wing across the sunny air."


Think back over the novel and list as many examples of irony as you can. A few are noted below. (The ability of the students may dictate how many examples need to be given.)

• Curing Sally Oates ultimately resulted in Silas' being rejected by the townspeople.

• Dunstan brags that whenever he falls, he lands on his feet.

• Godfrey thinks that Dunstan would never be hurt, yet he was, by then, dead.

• Nancy Lammeter, who is prim and proper, is courted by a married man.

• Eppie replies to Godfrey that she can never leave her "father."


List and explain the symbolism Eliot uses in Silas Marner. Here are two examples:

• Eppie's golden hair, mistaken for the god returned, was that of a child who became a treasure more precious than the gold.

• The open door of Silas' cottage was the way to ruin for Dunstan, the way of refuge for Eppie, and the door of hope for Silas.

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