Summary and Analysis
Part 1: Chapters 14-15
Molly is buried that week, but hardly anyone notices. The villagers are surprised at Silas' determination to keep the child, but it leads to greater sympathy for him, and he receives much advice on child-raising. The most acceptable help comes from Dolly Winthrop, who gives Silas some of Aaron's old clothes and shows him how to dress and bathe the child. She also suggests that if Silas wishes to do the right thing by the child, she must be christened at church. Silas doesn't understand the word, but after Dolly explains it to him, he decides the child should be named Hepzibah after his mother and his little sister. She is to be called Eppie for short.
As time passes, the child creates new links with the world for Silas. His gold had always kept his thoughts inward, but Eppie leads them out into the world like a reawakening to life. Eppie soon develops a capacity for mischief, and Silas is troubled about having to punish her. He cannot bear to spank her, so he takes Dolly's advice to try shutting her in the coal hole. He tries this only once, after Eppie has run away into a neighboring field. Eppie finds the coal hole as much fun as the fields, and Silas drops all idea of punishing her in the future. Silas takes her on his trips to the farmhouses, and Eppie makes him seem human to his neighbors. Even the children no longer fear him. And now that he has the child, the gold he earns seems unimportant.
Godfrey watches the weaver's growing happiness with hidden interest. He dares not claim the child as his own, and he sees that she is well taken care of. Godfrey has no regrets now. Dunstan has not returned; Godfrey's courtship of Nancy is going well; he envisions himself happily married, playing with his children on his own hearth.
Molly's burial, like her death, is told but not seen. Her passing creates no stir in the world portrayed in the novel, and it is not allowed to disturb the reader. Silas and the child remain the focus of attention.
The time of this section stretches from the burial to some indeterminate point apparently several years later. In its course the full nature of the miracle becomes apparent. Eliot now gives a central statement of that which has been shown — the child represents the beginning of human contacts for Silas: ". . . as the weeks grew to months, the child created fresh and fresh links between his life and the lives from which he had hitherto shrunk continually into narrower isolation." From the beginning, Silas has felt this miraculous nature of the child. He tells Dolly, "Yes — the door was open. The money's gone I don't know where, and this is come from I don't know where." Now the child causes love to grow within him, and at the same time he finds love, or at least friendliness, among other men. Note particularly that "no child was afraid of approaching Silas when Eppie was near him." Recall that when Silas was first seen, his gaze was enough to make "small scoundrels . . . take to their legs in terror." His outlook has changed, and so has theirs.
There is further notice taken that Eppie helps Silas to remember the past he had forgotten. Once again there is the connection with his little sister, for she had the same name. Then, too, he begins to go out, to notice the world again, and he remembers "the once familiar herbs . . . with their unchanged outline and markings." Before his flight to Raveloe, Silas felt that the world was changed. Now he finds that it is still the same, but that he had changed.
Eppie is a treasure of a different sort from gold. It is ironic that Dolly recommends she be punished, if necessary, by being put in the coal hole: although this is a punishment for Eppie, it is what Silas did daily to his gold. Also, "the gold had asked that he should sit weaving longer and longer, deafened and blinded more and more to all things . . . but Eppie called him away from his weaving and made him think all its pauses a holiday." His life had all been drawn inward on itself; now it is directed out into the world.
For the most part, Silas' contacts with other persons now are narrated rather than shown. The only person who is treated dramatically is Dolly. There are several possible reasons for this. It allows the building of one meaningful relationship for Silas rather than several haphazard ones, which in turn leads to a fuller treatment of other problems later on — among them Silas' past and Eppie's future. Besides, Dolly as a representative of the best in human character is a counterbalance to some others. Eliot gives one particular example to show the goodness of Dolly Winthrop: she brings Eppie some clothes but insists that Silas dress her so that "you can say as you've done for her from the first of her coming to you."
Dolly is not exceptionally bright, however. Intellectually she may be taken to represent the average of Raveloe folk, which gives her comments added value for the purposes of explaining Raveloe life. One of particular interest is her belief that Eppie should be christened: "For if the child ever went anyways wrong, and you hadn't done your part by it, Master Marner — 'noculation, and everything to save it from harm — it 'ud be a thorn i' your bed forever." Religion is a spiritual equivalent of vaccination, a charm to ward off ill results.
Hepzibah, as Silas says, is a Biblical name. Appropriately, it means "my delight is in her," which is an allusion to Isaiah 62:4 — "Thou shalt no more be termed forsaken . . . but thou shalt be called Hepzibah . . . for the Lord delighteth in thee."
Godfrey now "seemed like a man of firmness." But Eliot is being ironic. Godfrey "seemed" firm, to those who do not know the truth. And there are other shadows of the future. He pictures himself happy at home with Nancy and his children, and he intends to provide for the other child because "that was a father's duty." He still does not recall that it is his duty to own the child. Eliot brings in the metaphor of the ring that "pricked its owner when he forgot duty and followed desire." She remarks that it may not have pricked deeply "when he set out on the chase" but become painful only when "hope, folding her wings, looked backward and became regret." The implication is that although Godfrey has not been hurt yet, he still may be, and it will have something to do with his child. This suggestion is typical of Eliot's careful preparation for future events, so that they do not seem strange or unreal when they come.