Summary and Analysis
Part 1: Chapter 10
Raveloe opinion on the robbery continues to be divided between the idea that the peddler was the thief and the theory that this is an impenetrable mystery. But while his neighbors argue, Silas is baffled and desolate. However, there is a kindlier feeling toward him now, and he receives visits from well-meaning neighbors. Mr. Macey comes to advise Silas to acquire a Sunday suit and go to church. Dolly Winthrop comes on much the same mission. She is a "good, wholesome woman" who is always there when help is needed, and now she comes with her little son Aaron to bring Silas a gift of cakes. On the cakes, she has pricked the letters I.H.S., in imitation of the church pulpit-cloth. She does not know their meaning, but she feels they may have some good effect. Dolly remarks that Silas does not attend church, and he replies that he has never been to church, although he used to attend chapel. His explanation is beyond Dolly's comprehension, but she urges him at least to give up weaving on Sundays.
Nevertheless, Christmas day finds Silas alone as always, while in the village the bells ring and the church is full. After church there are feasts and parties. These are family parties, but they look forward to the great dance at the Red House on New Year's Eve.
Godfrey, too, looks forward to the dance as a chance to see Nancy, but he fears that Dunstan may return or that his father will bring matters to a head.
Justice Malam "could draw much wider conclusions without evidence than could be expected of his neighbours." This description is the ironic summing up of the Raveloe attitude to the robbery, or to mysteries in general. The little thought that exists is devoted to fancies. However, these fancies lead to a kindlier feeling toward Silas, even though it is mixed with a good deal of self-interest and complacency. Mr. Macey can be insulting while trying to be complimentary: "it isn't every queer-looksed thing as Old Harry's had the making of — I mean, speaking o' toads and such; for they're often harmless, like, and useful against varmin. And it's pretty much the same wi' you, as fur as I can see." But he is at least trying to be helpful, and if he gives advice, he believes it to be the best obtainable.
Not all the help Silas receives is of that type, either. Dolly Winthrop is one person who is thoughtful as well as sincere. The essence of Dolly's personality is that she is a "good, wholesome woman." She represents the good part of humanity, the possibility of real concern with the problems of other people. But she is more than mere representation: as the story progresses, she acquires enough of a personality and a background to take on the qualities of a real person. (Compare her to Macey, who is more limited in his reactions. Macey always presents a single simple reaction to every situation — but he does so with such energy and self-certainty that he is responsible for some of the best comedy in the book.)
Silas has changed since the robbery. The change is pronounced, but it is a natural result of his misfortunes. Its roots go back all the way to the day he came to Raveloe. Note that although his condition now is almost the same as at the time of his arrival, he does not have the determination to begin again in the same way. He did not then require the companionship of his gold, but now he cannot be content without it and cannot set out to earn a new hoard. He has become dependent on its presence, which "fenced him in from the wide, cheerless unknown. . . . But now the fence was broken down — the support was snatched away." He has "no phantasm of delight to still the poor soul's craving." Yet he still has the craving — his soul is intact. And the gold was only a "phantasm" of delight — it brought no real fulfillment. Its disappearance leaves only a blank, but it prepares him for the possibility of human contacts. Already Silas is more receptive to friendly overtures; he no longer wishes that visitors would go on their way, as he once did with Jem Rodney. (Note too the symbol of the open door: "he opened the door wide to admit Dolly.")
Both Macey and Dolly urge Silas to attend church, but the long span of years since Silas left his church and his inability to understand their religion blunt their good intentions. Silas has forgotten time and the world. He has no idea how long he has been at Raveloe, and Macey doubts that he knows when it is Sunday. Silas tells Dolly he has heard the Sunday bells, but to him they have no real meaning, for "there had been no bells in Lantern Yard." Nor does he recognize Aaron's carol as religious music. The Raveloe idea of church is foreign to him, and he has no desire to return to the old ways.
We are again reminded that Raveloe religion is mostly concerned with form. Churchgoing is a good thing, but "to go to church every Sunday in the calendar would have shown a greedy desire to stand well with Heaven and get an undue advantage." Church is only a customary part of life and not a serious business of salvation as it once was to Silas. Christmas brings with it a special service and the "Christian freedom" to eat, drink, and be merry. The service brings a vague sense of well-being that is generally beneficial and partly magical, being the result of special hymn and anthem and the Athanasian Creed, which was "of exceptional virtue, since it was only read on rare occasions."
Note the skill with which Eliot makes the transition from Silas' problems to Godfrey's: Dolly's remarks on religion and Christmas lead to the Christmas service, then to the family parties, and then to the great party at the Red House on New Year's Eve.