Silas Marner

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Themes and Colors
Faith Theme Icon
Morality Theme Icon
The Individual and Society Theme Icon
Fear of the Unknown Theme Icon
The Limits of Human Knowledge Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Silas Marner, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Fear of the Unknown Theme Icon

An irrational fear of the unknown characterizes the attitudes of the people of Raveloe. This fear of the unknown is a key factor in Silas Marner’s initial separation from the society of the village. On the first page of the book, the wary perspective of these people is described. The basis of their xenophobia is their narrow circle of acquaintances and the limited travel that would occur in any individual’s lifetime. The villagers of Raveloe are used to interacting with the same circle of people because the same families have lived in the village for multiple generations.

After Silas Marner is robbed, the local men discuss a peddler who carried a tinderbox like the one found by Marner near his house after the robbery. The highest element of suspicion in the peddler’s appearance and character was his “foreignness,” which is described by the villagers as evidence of his dishonesty. Marner also exhibits fear of the unknown. His return to Lantern Yard is marked by fear and distrust of the transition that has occurred in his old home. An anxiety with “the new” pervades the book, which ends with the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, an increase in manufacturing, which was soon to rapidly change lives throughout England.

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Fear of the Unknown ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Fear of the Unknown appears in each chapter of Silas Marner. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Fear of the Unknown Quotes in Silas Marner

Below you will find the important quotes in Silas Marner related to the theme of Fear of the Unknown.
Chapter 1 Quotes

In that far-off time superstition clung easily round every person or thing that was at all unwonted, or even intermittent and occasional merely, like the visits of the peddler or the knife-grinder. No one knew where wandering men had their homes or their origin; and how was a man to be explained unless you at least knew somebody who knew his father and mother?

Related Symbols: Raveloe
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

Silas Marner is primarily set in the rural village of Raveloe in England in the early 1800s. This setting defines the character of the people who inhabit Raveloe—inclined to suspicion of differences, uneasy with change, and entrenched in their regular lives. Because travel is difficult and social circles are small, the unfamiliar is rare, but when it appears—even in the form of a traveling peddler or knife-grinder—it is met with suspicion. This passage captures the mood of the people of Raveloe toward outsiders and explains why Silas Marner, who moves there from Lantern Yard, is a social outcast and an oddity. Silas Marner’s job as a weaver leads to a solitary existence consumed by work, and his limited interactions with the other villagers categorize him as the type of “intermittent” visitor who is regarded with suspicion.

This thinking among the villagers is explained by their sedentary lives over generations. In this small community, every person is accounted for because their home has always been in Raveloe, as was their parents’ before them. A man is “explained” when his parentage is known. This sentiment is partly humorous, as Eliot asks these rhetorical questions ironically, but she also emphasizes that one’s parentage defines one’s situation and identity in a small village like Raveloe. Social classes and occupations are taken for granted and passed on through the generations, leaving little room for individuality or escape.


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Chapter 8 Quotes

Mr. Snell gradually recovered a vivid impression of the effect produced on him by the peddler’s countenance and conversation. He had a “look with his eye” which fell unpleasantly on Mr. Snell's sensitive organism. To be sure, he didn't say anything particular—no, except that about the tinder-box—but it isn't what a man says, it's the way he says it. Moreover, he had a swarthy foreignness of complexion which boded little honesty.

Related Characters: Mr. Snell (speaker)
Related Symbols: Raveloe
Page Number: 50
Explanation and Analysis:

In a rare appeal to his fellow men, Silas Marner goes to the local pub for help after he is robbed. The villagers of Raveloe offer their advice, which ranges from suggestions of supernatural interference to suspicion of an unknown peddler who traveled through Raveloe. In this passage, Mr. Snell remembers several things about this peddler that make him an object of suspicion in the eyes of the villages. These suspicious traits reveal the xenophobia of the villagers, who are particularly afraid of anyone or anything that is different from themselves. These traits include a suspicious “look with his eye” and a “swarthy foreignness of complexion which boded little honesty.” The suspicion cast on this peddler is very insubstantial. The argument against him is the way he made Mr. Snell feel, and this is quickly attributed to his foreignness and the darkness of his skin. The villagers of Raveloe never feel good about foreignness.

Mr. Snell goes so far as to acknowledge that the peddler didn’t say anything particularly suspicious, so there is no real evidence against him. Furthermore, he must “gradually recover” the impression the man made on him, which shows that he is talking himself into his suspicions the longer he contemplates the peddler's foreignness. The villagers are much happier to suspect a foreigner than one of their own.

Chapter 9 Quotes

Favourable Chance, I fancy, is the god of all men who follow their own devices instead of obeying a law they believe in. Let even a polished man of these days get into a position he is ashamed to avow, and his mind will be bent on all the possible issues that may deliver him from the calculable results of that position.

Related Characters: Godfrey Cass
Page Number: 60
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage universalizes Godfrey’s experience as he hopes for a resolution to his terrible marriage to Molly. Because Godfrey is ashamed of his secret relationship, and he cannot resolve this situation through his own actions either by confessing or persuading Dunstan to keep the secret, he hopes for a chance occurrence that will rescue him. The voice of the narrator appears in this passage with an “I” voice and an opinion. Normally, Silas Marner focuses on the thoughts and actions of the characters, but occasionally it pauses to provide more universal reflections from the narrator.

In this universal reflection, the narrator points out that it naturally follows that if a person is in an undesirable situation, he will focus irrationally on events that could allow him to escape without consequences. This is notable because it presents a counterpoint to the idea highlighted in other parts of this novel that one’s character determines one’s fate. In much of this book, good characters bring happiness into their lives through their kindness, and weak characters make mistakes and poor choices that continue to haunt them. This passage acknowledges that even a “polished man”—one of wealth, good social standing, and (presumably) good character—would rely too much on chance if he were in a situation like Godfrey’s. Even good characters are inclined to look outside themselves for help, to rely on chance, when their poor circumstances seem beyond their control.

Chapter 13 Quotes

Godfrey felt a great throb: there was one terror in his mind at that moment: it was, that the woman might not be dead. That was an evil terror—an ugly inmate to have found a nestling-place in Godfrey's kindly disposition; but no disposition is a security from evil wishes to a man whose happiness hangs on duplicity.

Related Characters: Silas Marner, Molly Farren
Page Number: 96
Explanation and Analysis:

Silas Marner finds Molly's body outside his hut and rushes to Squire Cass’s party in search of the doctor. Godfrey overhears the news and hurries with the doctor, Mrs. Winthrop, and Silas Marner to inspect the woman. Godfrey waits outside Marner’s hut in great agitation as the doctor cares for Molly. He wonders as he waits if she is really dead, and he feels terror at the thought that she might not be. This passage explains Godfrey’s terror as the natural consequence of his circumstance, which has twisted his heart and mind enough that he wishes for another person's death. His wish arises from a desire to protect himself and his happiness. If Molly is dead, Godfrey's secret dies with her.

This passage describes how such a cruel thought could arise from the mind of a man like Godfrey, who is weak of character, but kind. Eliot universalizes Godfrey’s experience, pointing out that any man who is living a duplicitous life will succumb to evil when it is necessary to maintain the duplicity his happiness is based on. For Godfrey to be happy, he must wish for Molly’s death. If he had never gotten himself into this situation, Godfrey would never have been the type of person who wished any ill on another being.