Silas Marner By George Eliot Summary and Analysis Part 2: Chapter 16

Summary

It is sixteen years since Silas found his new treasure. The church bells are ringing as the villagers come from church. Among the crowd are Godfrey Cass, looking much the same as the young man of twenty-six, and his wife, Nancy, who is still lovely but "ripened into fuller goodness." Also seen are Silas and his daughter, a blonde girl of eighteen. With them is Aaron Winthrop. Eppie is suggesting to her father, Silas, that they might have a garden, and Aaron eagerly offers to help plant it. Silas is willing, and he asks that Aaron's mother be consulted, as she is always ready with good advice.

At their home, Silas and Eppie are greeted by various animals — donkey, dog, and tortoise-shell kitten. The animals are not the only additions to the cottage since Eppie arrived. Furniture has been provided by Mr. Cass, and the home is quite comfortable. On the advice of the local sages, Silas has taken up smoking a pipe for his health. This detail is only part of the new self that has developed since Eppie came. He has discussed with Dolly the old robbery at Lantern Yard, and they have puzzled over the differing customs of the two places. Dolly cannot believe there is another person so bad as William Dane, and after much rumination of the tale, she concludes that Silas should have trusted that a higher being would have made things right, for if he had gone on trusting his old friends, he would never have run away and been so alone. Silas, now that Eppie has been sent to him, agrees in part; but to him the drawing of the lots is still dark.

This conversation took place in Eppie's early years. Since then, she and Silas have lived in perfect love and mutual happiness. Eppie has been told of her mother, as much as is known. Of her real father she knows nothing. Now that the garden is planned, however, Eppie decides that she would like the furze bush where her mother's body was found moved into the garden. Silas agrees to this, but he is worried about carrying stones for a wall. Eppie is sure there will be plenty of stones, for the Stone Pits are being drained by Mr. Godfrey Cass, who has taken over that land. As for carrying them, Aaron will do that. Eppie is sure of that, for Aaron has asked her to marry him. Eppie has told him, however, that Silas must live with them, for she will never leave him alone. Silas feels that she is young for marriage, but if she wishes it he will not object. He asks that they consult Dolly on the matter.

Analysis

This section of the novel opens in the present tense, which helps the reader to adjust to the sixteen-year gap in time by giving an immediacy to the action, as though what has gone before were in the past and this is what is happening now. After a few paragraphs, Eliot drops back into the past tense to continue the story.

The changes that have taken place in the main characters are quickly filled in. Godfrey has not changed at all, except that he looks older. Nancy, however, has matured in more than years. Her soul has grown into "fuller goodness." Something of the same sort has happened to Silas. We learn that "his large brown eyes seem to have gathered a longer vision, as is the way with eyes that have been short-sighted in early life." This is a physical change, to be sure, but it is more than that. His eyes were "short-sighted" in more than a physical sense, and he has been helped to overcome that.

The events of the intervening years are also filled in in a few brief lines. Part of this occurs in conversations. Aaron says that Mr. Cass would be willing to give Silas and Eppie some soil for a garden. Thus we know that Godfrey has to some extent honored his vow to provide for Eppie. Silas and Eppie want Dolly to know all about the garden, so it is certain that she has continued in her kindness to them. Later we see that she is Eppie's godmother. The first exchange of conversation also establishes that more than friendship exists between Eppie and Aaron. In this way, a lot of important background is got out of the way quickly.

Silas' position in the community is seen to be firmly established now. Through his kindness to Eppie, he has come to be regarded as "an exceptional person"; Eppie has brought him fully into line with the community. He is now a churchgoer; he has taken up a pipe on the advice of "the sages of Raveloe"; he is friendly with his neighbors. His present is well-grounded in happiness, and there is even a hint that he may be in for a larger reward — Macey at least is certain that what Silas had done "was a sign that his money would come to light again." Furthermore, Silas, through pondering over his old faith, has "recovered a consciousness of unity between his past and his present." Eliot states this directly, but she has already shown it through his memories of Lantern Yard and of his herb medicine. All three phases of Silas' life have been united, yet there still remains for Silas one problem — that of settling the truth of the first robbery. His conversations with Dolly show that this bothers him.

Consideration of this problem leads to a new depth of character for Dolly. Throughout the book, we have seen that character is closely linked to structure: Silas has developed with the changing situation. Here Dolly develops in the same way, or at least the reader's impression of her changes. She is ignorant, but she has great inner resources, and these are gradually revealed. She has to struggle against "narrow outward experience" that "gave her no key to strange customs." This, in fact, is exactly the problem that Eliot is at pains to overcome in the reader, by giving full inward and outward information about many characters. Dolly is not given that information, but she has a wide inward experience, at least. She has a sympathy broad enough to include even those who have harmed her friend.

Dolly's advice to "trusten" may seem naive in the face of the real evils which have occurred in Silas' life. It is not easy to tell just what Eliot's belief is on this point, yet it is certain that Silas has come to see good in his fellow men. Partly this is semi-superstitious, a belief that Eppie was sent to him for a purpose. But more important, it has been demonstrated that good was there when he was ready to see it. If we wished to put this symbolically, we might say that a blessing came to him when his door opened to it.

Silas meets with Eliot's straightforward approval now. Godfrey, however, is still being treated with irony. It is not now comic irony, but is put in a more serious way. When he provides for Eppie and Silas, it is felt by Raveloe to be "nothing but right a man should be looked on and helped by those who could afford it, when he had brought up an orphan child and been father and mother to her." It is still not known, of course, that Godfrey is the real father. A similar reminder of the past is that Eppie, knowing only Dolly Winthrop, feels that "a mother must be very precious." She does not know how different her own mother was.

Irony of another sort may be found in the news that Godfrey is having the Stone Pits drained. This irony rises from the contrast between what Godfrey intends in draining the waste land and what he achieves as a result. Even the reader cannot yet be sure that this is ironic, but there is a clear reminder of the frequent references to the pits when Dunstan was approaching Marner's cottage, and there is a preparation for the future.

Eliot's handling of Eppie offers both some of the best and some of the worst characterization in the book. It is difficult to present a relationship like that between Silas and Eppie, and difficult to portray a character as good as Eppie must be, for sentimentality is always only a step away. At times, Eliot borders on the mire of sticky sweetness — for example, in showing Eppie with all her pets, or, earlier, with "Eppie in de toal-hole." It is a triumph that Eliot generally avoids this, that Eppie and Silas’ relationship is at once sweet, sincere, and believable.

The test of this relationship comes when Eppie asks to marry Aaron: here there is a fine balance between care for her father and care for Aaron. The marriage will serve in another way as an index of character for both Silas and Eppie. It shows that Silas has reached the maturity of being able to share his treasure. In addition, by having marriage arranged now before Eppie finds out who she is, Eliot prepares a demonstration of Eppie's inner worth when she remains faithful to Aaron rather than choosing to become a lady, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Cass.

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