A Community Makes All the Difference in George Eliots Silas Marner
Silas Marner by George Eliot was first published in 1861 during a period of sweeping changes in social class and economic standing. This period is known as the Industrial Revolution and took place from the 18th to the 19th century where major changes in agriculture, manufacturing, mining, transportation, and technology had a profound effect on the socioeconomic and cultural conditions of the times. In George Eliots Silas Marner community provides its members with a sense of identity and structure. Communities are based on human interaction. Raveloe and Lantern Yard are communities. Lantern Yard is the community where we see Silas lose his sense of self, connectedness, and belief in something greater whereas the community of Raveloe eventually allows for the redemption and rebirth of Silas Marner. Mutual helpfulness is necessary for survival and because of freedom from religious constraints the spontaneous expressions of the community of Raveloe allow Silas to become a meaningful member of the community.
Lantern Yard is a close knit religious community where Silas Marner was raised. It is a community dominated by a strict religious sect. Silas was thought of as a young man of exemplary life and ardent faith (6). Lantern Yard is the only community Silas knows. He is framed by his best friend, who stole some money and accused him of the theft. Painfully betrayed, Silas lost his faith not only in his fellow human beings but also in God. He expressed grievously to his hideous friend before he left his home town: . . . . You stole the money, and you have woven a plot to lay the sin at my door. But you may prosper, for all that: there is no just in God that governs the earth righteously, but a God of lies, that bears witness against the innocent (11). After being found guilty of a crime he did not commit he renounces his faith and is excommunicated from the community. With the renouncing of his faith Silas also lost his faith in mankind and became isolated from any sort of larger community. Poor Marner went out with that despair in his soul- that shaken trust in God and man which is little short of madness to a loving nature (11).
Bereft and disillusioned, Silas comes to Raveloe and settles. Silas finds Raveloe with its sense of neglected plenty unlike the world in which he grew up. The villagers are easy going and less ridged in their religion. There is nothing familiar in Raveloe that renews Silass faith and believe in the goodness of man. Upon arriving at Raveloe, Marner settles in a cottage on the outskirts of town and is treated with suspicion because he is different, the peasants of the community ostracize him, heightened the repulsion between him and his neighbors (16). Silas does little to nothing to dispel the beliefs of his neighbors and for fifteen years he has as little as possible to do with the community. Spiritually empty Silas uses his loom as a distraction; his earnings from weaving become his sole interest. Replete of friends Silas finds fulfillment merely in holding, counting, and looking at his money. Money doesnt mean anything to him in terms of what it can buy. Rather, he treats it as its own community; as a gathering of friends and family, of familiar faces; He began to think it was conscious of him, as his loom was, and he would on no account have exchanged those coins, which had become his familiars, for other coins with unknown faces (17). Marner returns from a trip to town to find gold missing. This loss is like his previous bout of desolation after the betrayal by William. Silas instinctively turns to his loom for meaning, solace and control, for his sense of reality is lost when his gold is taken.
Devastated that his community of family and friends are gone Silas rushes into Raveloe for assistance and ends up at the Rainbow tavern, where the locals have gathered for conversation and drink. Silas despair precipitates him into seeking help from the villagers. Silas receives kind treatment from the people of Raveloe, some of whom even call at his cottage to cheer him. At first the visits produce little comfort, but through his grieving Silas seems to gain insight into his awareness that he needs other people. Silas realizes that, if he is to be helped, it must come from without; and there was a slight stirring of expectation at the sight of his fellow men, a faint consciousness of dependence on their goodwill (81). After a visit from Dolly Winthrop Silas becomes aware of a slight shift in his perception of what he needs to make him whole so to speak, The fountain of human love and divine faith had not yet been unlocked, and his soul was still the shrunken rivulet, with only this difference, that its little grove of sand was blocked up and it wandered confusedly against dark obstruction (86). Although grateful for the visit Silas is relieved when he once again is alone and in isolation begins to weave and mourn the loss of his gold. The visits begin a slow reintegration into society for Silas that is accelerated by his finding an apparently abandoned infant girl on his hearth a few weeks later.
Silas decides raise the child, causing the people of Raveloe to feel greater sympathy for him. He believes that the child, whom he names Eppie, is a gift from Providence. On the advice of Dolly Winthrop, Silas has Eppie baptized, which increases his connectedness with humanity: Whereas gold intensified his alienation, the child, in her need to embrace the world, creates fresh links between his life and the people of Raveloe. As the childs 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(129). The child influences the growth of the adult: By calling him away from his weaving, Eppie forces his thoughts onward to new objects. She reawakens his senses and inspires hope, purpose, and joy in him. She links him once more with the whole world. Their relationship implies that what are truly priceless are love and the bonds between people.
Although this community is simple and full of superstitions, it is still warm hearted and full of love. It is shown of their reject first to Silas, and then their sympathy and acceptance to him. Not only that, but also to build a warm relationship with him as a neighbor, he is now "met with open smiling faces and cheerful questioning, as a person whose satisfactions and difficulties could be understood." (133). While Raveloe's citizens belong to the Anglican Church, they do not practice any type of authoritarian Christianity. In fact, they are shown to be ignorant of the meaning of common Church rituals and rely on old-fashioned common-sense and a community spirit to guide them in their moral decisions. Yet this basic "religion of humanity" proves to be more beneficial than the pettiness of Lantern Yards strict adherence to dogmatic strictures. The fact that the stoutly religious community of Lantern Yard wrongly convicts Silas of a theft shows they are not guided by compassion, understanding, or forgiveness. The process of dehumanization began through his alienating form of work and was completed when Silas is cast out from this narrow community. In contrast, the secular neighborliness shown by the people of Raveloe is proven a truer spirituality in the end. Through Eppie, Silas is reconnected to the community because of the towns people's commitment to help him raise her "rightly." Eliot demonstrates that through simple human compassion Silas regains his trust in human life and mankind and integrates himself as meaningful member of Raveloe.
Eliot, George. Silas Marner. New York: Signet Classics, 1861.