Silas Marner By George Eliot Summary and Analysis Part 1: Chapter 12

Summary

While Godfrey and Nancy are dancing, Godfrey's wife Molly is walking through the snow toward Raveloe, carrying her child in her arms. Her addiction to opium, far more than her husband's neglect, is the cause of her present ragged appearance. Nevertheless, she intends to revenge herself on Godfrey by appearing at the dance and revealing that she is his wife. Molly started out early, but the snow has held her back, and now she becomes too tired to go on. To comfort her, she takes the last remnant of her opium, which only increases her weakness, and at last she sinks down in the snow in a stupor.

The child slips down into the snow. It discovers a bright light coming across the night and toddles toward it. The light comes from the open door of the weaver's cottage, where Silas stands unconscious, in one of his fits. He has been told that to watch the new year in is good luck and may bring his money back, and he has been watching out the door for some sign of the gold.

When Silas recovers, he thinks for a moment that his gold has come back, for on the hearth he sees a blurred vision of a heap of coins. When he touches them, he finds they are the golden hair of a sleeping child. The surprise brings him the memory of his little sister and of Lantern Yard. Then the child wakes. It cries because its shoes are wet, and its crying leads Silas at last to the body outside in the snow.

Analysis

This cold miserable scene follows immediately on the gay warmth of the party, giving a striking contrast between the two sides of Godfrey's life. But once the point is made, the effect is softened. Up to now, Godfrey has looked bad because his marriage has never been fully explained. The reason for it is still not given, but a look at his wife makes Godrey's rejection of her seem more reasonable. Eliot withdraws sympathy from Molly by making her degradation her own responsibility and by assigning her only the worst traits of character: "Molly knew that the cause of her dingy rags was not her husband's neglect but the demon Opium to whom she was enslaved." She sets out for Raveloe as "a premeditated act of vengeance," but "her indolence" leads her to linger on the road, and even her "vindictive purpose" cannot keep her moving in the snow. By these means, Eliot keeps in the background a death that could be made heartrending in other circumstances.

By coincidence, Molly arrives at her death just beyond Silas' door at a time when that door stands open. This coincidence is less believable than that by which Dunstan arrived during Silas' absence. Still, it is not beyond possibility, and the action is presented in such a way that the problem is glossed over. The child sees a light and goes to it; the light comes from Silas' door; The reason that the door is open is given, and the problem of the child's being just outside the door in the first place is forgotten.

In any case, not too much weight should be put on the physical details of the incident. The events should be judged not by the way they reflect ordinary experience, but by their cohesiveness and meaning within the total context of the story. In this case, events may be taken both literally and as symbols of human experience. Silas' open door is symbolic of his readiness for human contact. Still, there is a logical reason for it — he has taken to standing at his door looking out on the chance that his gold may be returned. Tonight he is up because he has been told that "he must sit up and hear the old year rung out and the new rung in, because that was good luck." This is Silas' first acceptance of local custom, a further sign of his willingness to re-enter society. It also functions as the physical cause of his unusual excitement which leads to one of his fits.

Silas turns back into his cottage "unaware of the chasm in his consciousness." We may recall that the loss of his gold created a "blank filled with grief," while Silas remained unaware of the real "chasm," the need for human contacts. Now Silas is prepared for the return of his gold, and for a moment he thinks it has come back. There is no transfer of his love yet. He mistakes the child's hair for real gold. Even after he recognizes the reality, the gold image clings ("soft yellow rings all over its head") as though his mind clung still to the past.

It is interesting to note some of the parallels that have developed in the plot: a robbery first sent Silas to Raveloe and closed his heart against men. Now a robbery leads him to open his door to humanity, but the door admits (without his knowledge) the child who is to reopen his heart. Silas' next reaction is the same as at the time of the robbery — he mistrusts his senses, thinking that this is a dream. This is still another means of connecting the child with the gold. Finally Silas thinks this may be his little sister brought back to him. This thought brings to him memories of Lantern Yard and is the first memory of his old life since he left it. He feels that "this child was somehow a message come to him from that far-off life." Silas' present life is finally being united with his past.

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