Silas Marner By George Eliot Summary and Analysis Part 2: Chapter 21

Summary

The next day, Silas tells Eppie that he has decided to take a trip back to his old home. He wants to talk to Mr. Paston, the minister, about the robbery and the drawing of lots. Eppie is delighted because she thinks this journey will give her at least one small advantage over Aaron, who is so much wiser than she in most things.

When Silas asks her, Dolly agrees that he should go, for she thinks it will make his mind easier.

On the fourth day following, Silas and Eppie arrive in his old town. It has changed so that he hardly knows his way. He has to ask directions to Lantern Yard. The only landmark he recognizes is the old prison. All the streets have changed. The walls are grimy and the people sallow-faced and dirty. When at last he comes to where the Yard should be, Silas finds in its place a factory. No one knows anything of the chapel or the minister.

When he returns to Raveloe, Silas tells Dolly that the past will be dark to the last. Dolly agrees, but she adds that the fact that he will never know the "rights" of the matter doesn't mean that no right exists. With that, Silas feels bound to agree.

Analysis

"Now the money's been brought back," Silas feels able to return to Lantern Yard to seek for the truth of his past. This trip is not merely a matter of economics; his feeling is not only that he can afford the trip, but that now he is inwardly capable of seeking the truth about the past. Religion is one of the problems he wants to resolve — to settle his doubts about the conflicts between his old faith and his new one. This very process of doubting is a measure of his development: in the past, he first believed "unquestioned doctrine" and then rejected all doctrines.

The name Lantern Yard has taken on an ironic tinge now. Dolly asks Silas to bring back "any light to be got up the yard as you talk on, we've need of it i' this world." Lantern Yard once was a light for Silas, but that went out long ago and cannot be rekindled now. He finds everything changed, and the only thing to cheer him is the sight of a prison. Silas wants to set everything in his life to rights, but that is beyond his power.

Lantern Yard is in darkness both literally and symbolically. Prison Street remains, dark and ugly; pale faces stare out from gloomy doorways; there is a bad smell in the air. These physical conditions were common enough among nineteenth-century factories, and as such this scene helps fill out the social background of the novel. But it is also like the evil darkness that must remain a part of Silas' past.

Dolly is convinced that there was some good, some rightness, in the past, despite the apparent injustice:

". . . that doesn't hinder there being a rights, Master Marner, for all it's dark to you and me." Silas' faith is more tentative, but he has certainly arrived at a kind of faith. All his life he has depended on some support — his religion, his gold, his daughter. He never becomes quite independent, but at last he has a secure prop. He says he will "trusten" till he dies, now that Eppie has said she will never leave him, but even that is not his real support. It is within himself, his own love for another, for, as he says, "Since the time the child was sent to me and I've come to love her as myself, I've had light enough to trusten by." In a letter, George Eliot wrote that "the idea of God . . . is the ideal of a goodness entirely human." Through his troubles, Silas has become convinced that there is goodness in other men and in himself, and that is the basis of his faith.

There is one fine touch of characterization that should be noted. Eppie is delighted at the chance of a trip with Silas so that she may have at least one advantage over Aaron. This small touch of ambition gives a moment's relief from Eppie's eternal sweetness, but without detracting from that sweetness. It is a humanizing touch that both broadens her character and seems natural to it. Such small touches as this are a mark of Eliot's skill as a novelist.

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