Silas Marner By George Eliot Summary and Analysis Part 1: Chapter 13

Summary

To avoid his father's pointed jokes, Godfrey is standing off from Nancy while still staying where he can watch her. He is startled by the sudden entrance of Silas Marner carrying his own child. Silas asks for the doctor to go to the woman near his cottage. At this, Godfrey feels only fear that the woman may not be dead. The women ask whose the child is. Silas cannot say. But when Mrs. Kimble suggests that he leave it there, Silas refuses to part with it.

Godfrey goes for Dolly Winthrop, and they follow the doctor to the Stone Pits. He waits until Dr. Kimble comes out with the news that the woman is dead, then he goes in to have a last look at his wife. He feels a twinge of jealousy at the contentment the child shows in Silas' arms. When he asks if Silas will take the child to the parish to be raised, Silas answers that the child has come to him and he will keep it. Godfrey gives him money and returns home with a sense of relief.

Analysis

Silas' entry at the Red House parallels the earlier one at the Rainbow. It is seen from the point of view of the spectators: Silas is not seen approaching, but appears suddenly amid the festivities. Once again there is the feeling that a ghost has burst in, but this time only Godfrey feels it, and he is looking at the child. Eliot continues her careful handling of Godfrey. Even when he pretends not to know his child and his dead wife, he seems not evil but weak. He is "half-smothered by passionate desire and dread," yet he has the sense that "he ought to accept the consequences of his deeds, own the miserable wife, and fulfil the claims of the helpless child. But he had not moral courage enough to contemplate that active renunciation of Nancy as possible for him; he had only conscience and heart enough to make him forever uneasy under the weakness."

Godfrey is kept from seeming wicked, but we are never allowed to forget the consequences of his weakness — what it has done to him as well as to others. When he first hears of the woman's death, his first emotion is the "evil terror" that she might not be dead. Yet he feels regret that the child seems happy with Marner and shows no response to his own "half-jealous yearning."

At the moment, it would appear that Godfrey's weakness has been rewarded, that all is well with him. But there are hints that things are not concluded yet. One is Godfrey's jealousy about the child. Another is that Godfrey is uneasy about his wrongdoing. And his weakness is not ended: he desires to help the child, but he does not dare to admit it is his: "As for the child, he would see that it was cared for — he would never forsake it; he would do everything but own it." The strongest implication that all is not settled for Godfrey comes as he looks at his dead wife, in the statement that "at the end of sixteen years every line in the worn face was present to him when he told the full story of this night."

Silas' actions are in strong contrast to Godfrey's. He has no knowledge of the child except that it has come to him in place of his gold, but he is determined to keep it. He makes no vows to himself, but he acts, as Godfrey does not — in effect he "owns" the child. This reaction is "almost like a revelation to himself," for he had no such intention a minute before. Despite the rational explanation, then, the child's coming seems a miracle of sorts. But if the event and the change seem miraculous to Silas and the other characters, they are no miracles to the reader, who has been carefully prepared for them.

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