Silas Marner

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The Individual and Society Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
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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.
The Individual and Society Theme Icon

Two societies are at the heart of Silas Marner: Lantern Yard and Raveloe. These societies are drastically opposed to each other. By the end of the novel, Lantern Yard is a large town filled with factories, busy men, strangers, and travelers. It has experienced the transformative force of the Industrial Revolution. Raveloe is rural and intimate and changes very little from generation to generation. The inhabitants of Raveloe all know each other and are resistant to new or dramatic events in their small village.

The theme of society encompasses both the nature of life in these very different places and Silas Marner’s own changing relationship to his neighbors in Raveloe. Marner’s exclusion from Lantern Yard’s society, his initial willful distance from Raveloe’s society, and his eventual inclusion in this society cause his losing and regaining of faith. The loss of Marner’s money and his finding of Eppie are both presented in terms of his connection with those around him. After he is robbed, Marner is more open to help from others because he feels alone and directionless. Marner is changed from a miserly, isolated weaver into a caring father as he seeks what is needed for his adopted daughter, Eppie. By caring for Eppie, Marner adjusts to Raveloe society, acquiring the customs and beliefs of his new home.

The social conventions of Raveloe dictate what the town’s inhabitants perceive to be right and wrong. Social events, such as the New Years’ Eve dance at Squire Cass’s home, occur according to tradition. Such traditions define Raveloe’s unique identity and society over generations. At the end of the novel, Marner and Eppie travel to Lantern Yard. The village has transformed into a great manufacturing town, made more unsettling by the strong contrast it presents to the intimate village of Raveloe. Men on the streets of Lantern Yard are too busy to stop and assist Marner and Eppie, and both characters long to return to the familiar comforts of Raveloe. Similarly, Eppie is uninterested in Godfrey and Nancy’s offer to adopt her, as this would separate her from the society of those “lowly” folks who she knows and cares for. Eppie and Marner are both happy at the end of the novel because of the connections they have formed with each other and with Raveloe society.

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The Individual and Society ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in Silas Marner related to the theme of The Individual and Society.
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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“…there is no just God that governs the earth righteously, but a God of lies, that bears witness against the innocent.”

Related Characters: Silas Marner (speaker)
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

Silas Marner’s grim beginnings in Lantern Yard explain his move to rural Raveloe. In Lantern Yard, the young man was a respected and well-loved member of his community and congregation until he was accused of stealing church funds. His accuser was his closest friend William Dane. Despite this false accusation, Marner holds faith that God will reveal the truth. The church “draws lots,” a technique used to single out one individual, and Silas Marner is declared guilty. Marner’s faith is crushed by this outcome. He believes that the drawing of lots—a seemingly “chance” event—should be controlled by God to protect the innocent if He is a righteous God. It does not occur to Marner that the odds may have been manipulated against him by his suspicious friend.

Marner’s angry renouncement of God as “a God of lies” causes him to lose popularity among the congregation, who also believes him to be a thief. Effectively cast out from his community, Marner sees no choice but to find a new place to live. However, when he settles in Raveloe, he does not rejoin a community, but keeps to himself. His faith in God connected him to other humans. It gave him something to live for and made him happily seek fellowship with others, so without faith, Marner becomes a loner.

Chapter 2 Quotes

His life had reduced itself to the functions of weaving and hoarding, without any contemplation of an end towards which the functions tended. The same sort of process has perhaps been undergone by wiser men, when they have been cut off from faith and love—only, instead of a loom and a heap of guineas, they have had some erudite research, some ingenious project, or some well-knit theory.

Related Characters: Silas Marner
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

Isolated from his fellow human beings, Silas Marner’s life consists of working and hoarding his gold, but without any long-term goal in mind. The actions themselves consume him, and he covets his gold, not because he has dreams of things to buy or build, but because he takes satisfaction in the gold itself. This process is described as an unhealthy one. His life has been “reduced” from something better.

This passage also universalizes Marner’s experiences by commenting that this same process has been “undergone by wiser men” who have latched onto “some erudite research.” “Erudite” means “highly studied,” and so Eliot is here referring to scholars who have committed themselvesexclusivelyto research andstudy. This has isolated them from the world, a life they have chosen when they have been “cut off from faith and love.” This shows that faith and love are what connect humans to others. Without these things, one focuses intensely on isolating projects, be they research or labor.

Throughout the novel, Marner’s relationship with others in his community is key. He is ostracized from his community in Lantern Yard, and that separation from others is directly linked to a loss of both faith in God and faith in the goodness of other people. This passage highlights this cause and effect relationship: loss of love and faith leads to isolation. The novel demonstrates that the reverse is also true: finding love and faith connects an individual with others.

Chapter 3 Quotes

“I might tell the Squire how his handsome son was married to that nice young woman, Molly Farren, and was very unhappy because he couldn't live with his drunken wife, and I should slip into your place as comfortable as could be.”

Related Characters: Dunstan Cass (speaker), Godfrey Cass, Squire Cass
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:

Godfrey’s younger brother Dunstan is aware of Godfrey’s secret: Godfrey is married to an unsuitable woman from a low social class, and the two have a little daughter. Dunstan holds this information over Godfrey’s head and repeatedly threatens to reveal his secret. In this way, he is able to blackmail Godfrey and control Godfrey’s actions. In this passage, Dunstan points out that if he were to reveal Godfrey’s secret, he would “slip into” Godfrey’s “place as comfortable as could be.” Dunstan, as the younger brother, is not the primary heir of his father’s estate and fortune. Social class and societal traditions have strongly influenced Dunstan and Godfrey’s relationship, because of the legal and cultural practice of making the firstborn child the primary heir. Dunstan’s power over Godfrey is not only social, but financial. Godfrey be shamed and embarrassed if Dunstan revealed his secret (and prevented from marrying Nancy, who he loves), and he would also lose his source of income and inheritance.

This power dynamic between the brothers shows how society impacts the lives of individuals. Losing the good opinion of society could change Godfrey’s life. One reason why Godfrey would lose the respect of others and his inheritance from his father if his secret were revealed is that he has married an "unsuitable" woman. Molly Farren’s unsuitability for Godfrey is defined by the expectations of society, who assumes Godfrey will marry a rich and fashionable woman of his class. Molly is unsuitable because of her low social class and “drunken” behavior.

Chapter 10 Quotes

Formerly, his [Silas Marner’s] heart had been as a locked casket with its treasure inside; but now the casket was empty, and the lock was broken. Left groping in darkness, with his prop utterly gone, Silas had inevitably a sense, though a dull and half-despairing one, that if any help came to him it must come from without; and there was a slight stirring of expectation at the sight of his fellow-men, a faint consciousness of dependence on their goodwill.

Related Characters: Silas Marner
Related Symbols: Gold
Page Number: 67
Explanation and Analysis:

When Silas Marner loses his gold, the loss shakes him out of a routine pattern for his daily life. This change is described with the simile of a locked casket. Marner’s heart was “locked” because it was focused only on the gold inside. Without the gold, the casket (his heart) is empty. The gold is described in this passage as Marner’s “prop,” the thing he relied on every day. Because of this dramatic shift in his focus from the gold to the absence of the gold, Marner thinks for the first time about his fellow humans. He feels that “if any help came to him it must come from without.” Therefore, the loss of Marner’s gold is not a bad thing, although Marner sees it that way. The reader definitively learns in this passage that the gold was blocking Marner from focusing on connection with other people.

Marner now begins to feel “expectation” at the sight of others and has a sense of “dependence on their goodwill.” This shows that his faith in other people has never been completely lost. Despite his anger and bitterness after his dramatic departure from Lantern Yard, he is still somewhat inclined to believe in the goodness of others. Without his gold blocking his view, he is able to see the importance of other people in his life.

Chapter 12 Quotes

Molly knew that the cause of her dingy rags was not her husband's neglect, but the demon Opium to whom she was enslaved, body and soul, except in the lingering mother's tenderness that refused to give him her hungry child. She knew this well; and yet, in the moments of wretched unbenumbed consciousness, the sense of her want and degradation transformed itself continually into bitterness towards Godfrey. He was well off; and if she had her rights she would be well off too.

Related Characters: Godfrey Cass, Molly Farren
Page Number: 90
Explanation and Analysis:

Molly Farren sets out one winter night to find Godfrey and reveal the truth of their connection. She is motivated by bitterness, because Godfrey is enjoying an extravagant lifestyle at his father’s house and she is living in poverty. This passage captures both Molly’s rational understanding of her situation and her emotional understanding of her situation. From a rational point of view, Molly knows that she is poor because of her opium addiction. Her money goes toward acquiring the drug. But when she is sober, when she feels wretched “unbenumbed consciousness,” she feels bitter toward Godfrey because she sees her poverty in contrast to his wealth.

Her bitterness is not without some foundation, however, as she points out that “if she had her rights” she would be wealthy like Godfrey. By this she means that if Godfrey were to acknowledge her as his wife, she would be entitled to his wealth. Although Godfrey provides for wife and daughter, Molly sees that this is different than how he would treat a different woman. Her bitterness is a rebellion against social classism. She wants to be treated the same way as any other woman married to Godfrey would be treated. Molly’s situation is partly in her control and partly beyond her control, but her choice to link herself to Godfrey leads to her perpetual unhappiness.

Chapter 14 Quotes

“…the little child had come to link him [Silas Marner] once more with the whole world.”

Related Characters: Silas Marner, Eppie
Page Number: 110
Explanation and Analysis:

When Silas Marner takes in the little orphaned child, the villagers of Raveloe gain a new interest in Marner and grow to see him in a new light. The once-frightening weaver is approachable with the little girl at his side. Mothers from the village come to Marner with help and advice. The child gives the people of Raveloe a reason to reach out to Marner, in addition to a new understanding of him as a kind-hearted, if lonely, soul. Therefore, it is through Eppie that Marner is once again “linked” with “the whole world.” This transition presents a parallel (yet opposite) transition to Marner's departure from Lantern Yard. There Marner severed ties with the world because others saw him as a threat. He was seen as a thief and a liar and he was cut off from his community.

The people of Raveloe's dramatic change shows that the opinions of society play a critical role in the relationship between society and the individual. If the individual is mistrusted, he is cast out. If the individual is well-liked, he is embraced as part of the group. This can be either logical or illogical. Marner deserves the respect of the villagers for taking care of Eppie. On the other hand, Marner was falsely accused in Lantern Yard and public opinion turned against him without good reason.

Chapter 16 Quotes

By seeking what was needful for Eppie, by sharing the effect that everything produced on her, he [Silas Marner] had himself come to appropriate the forms of custom and belief which were the mould of Raveloe life; and as, with reawakening sensibilities, memory also reawakened, he had begun to ponder over the elements of his old faith, and blend them with his new impressions, till he recovered a consciousness of unity between his past and present.

Related Characters: Silas Marner, Eppie
Related Symbols: Raveloe
Page Number: 118
Explanation and Analysis:

Silas Marner loves Eppie and seeks out everything that is best for her, and, in the process, his personality changes from one of cold isolation into one who participates in the “forms of custom and belief” in Raveloe. This has the effect of helping Marner fit into Raveloe and become a part of the community. It also has the effect of restoring Marner to something like the person he was before his first hardship (his expulsion from Lantern Yard). This earlier person was a man of faith, and faith is one thing Marner regains as he raises Eppie and becomes part of Raveloe society. Marner must recover elements of his “old faith” and “blend them with his new impressions.” This integration of the old and the new is important because it allows Marner to see his episode as an isolated weaver as an interruption in a connected past and present. He is not meant to be that sad and isolated person forever. He regains his natural care for others and the faith he had as a young man.

Notably, part of Marner’s transformation involves taking on the “mould of Raveloe life.” Not only does he become part of a community, but he adjusts himself to specific traits and ideas of that community. This is later very apparent when Eppie and Marner visit Lantern Yard. Both miss the ways of life in Raveloe to which they are accustomed.

Chapter 19 Quotes

“…then, sir, why didn't you say so sixteen year ago, and claim her before I'd come to love her, i'stead o' coming to take her from me now, when you might as well take the heart out o' my body? God gave her to me because you turned your back upon her, and He looks upon her as mine: you've no right to her! When a man turns a blessing from his door, it falls to them as take it in.”

Related Characters: Silas Marner (speaker), Godfrey Cass
Page Number: 141
Explanation and Analysis:

Godfrey and Nancy explain the biological connection between Godfrey and Eppie to Silas Marner and the girl. They state their wish to adopt Eppie and to give her a better (that is, upper-class) than the life she has with Marner. Marner is very upset by this, because he loves Eppie as his own child. He speaks of losing Eppie as the same as taking his heart out of his body. His emotions show clearly how much he cares for the girl, especially in contrast to Godfrey’s measured arguments.

Marner is upset because he loves Eppie, but he also offers compelling arguments for why Godfrey doesn’t ethically deserve to take his child. Marner points out that Godfrey “turned his back upon her” with full knowledge of the identity and whereabouts of his daughter. This means that Godfrey has no right to her. In contrast, Marner has taken her in and cared for her, and, therefore, she is his in God’s eyes. Marner’s faith is an important part of his claim on Eppie, because he believes her to have come into his life through God’s will. Marner expands his point to say that any blessing a man turns from his door can be claimed by anyone who will take it in. This is a sort of “finders keepers” argument. The language of ownership in this passage may be startling to a modern reader, as each man claims Eppie is "his." Marner argues that belonging is defined by care, and Godfrey argues that belonging is defined by biological connection.

Chapter 21 Quotes

“It's gone, child," he [Silas Marner] said, at last, in strong agitation—“Lantern Yard's gone. It must ha' been here, because here's the house with the o'erhanging window—I know that—it's just the same; but they've made this new opening; and see that big factory! It's all gone—chapel and all.”

Related Characters: Silas Marner (speaker), Eppie
Related Symbols: Lantern Yard
Page Number: 148
Explanation and Analysis:

Even though Silas Marner’s life has been changed for the better because of Eppie, he still feels unease about his past in Lantern Yard. He wonders if his name was ever cleared from the crime for which he was blamed. Seeking answers to these questions, Marner and Eppie visit Lantern Yard, only to discover that the town has grown into a city and has been completely transformed by the Industrial Revolution. A big factory has replaced the local chapel and the community where Marner lived. Despite these changes, Marner recognizes the location by a house with a distinct overhanging window. This confirms for him that the place he once knew, and the people he knew there, are gone.

This dramatic change shows a contrast between Raveloe and Lantern Yard. In the rural village, little has changed over the course of the book, but Lantern Yard is transformed. This transformation heralds the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, which will affect even rural places like Raveloe. This historical context for the novel hints at the changes that England will face in the near future, which exist ominously in relationship to the villagers of Raveloe’s fear of change.

Although Marner once defined himself in relationship to society in Lantern Yard, this society is gone—and Marner remains. Society is not more permanent than the individual, but is always in flux. Yet the consistency and familiarity of Raveloe also offers comfort and security to both Marner and Eppie. Marner is eager to return home after visiting Lantern Yard—similarly, Eppie didn’t want to live with Godfrey and Nancy because it would mean leaving the comfort of Marner's familiar society.

“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; and now she says she'll never leave me, I think I shall trusten till I die.”

Related Characters: Silas Marner (speaker), Eppie
Page Number: 149
Explanation and Analysis:

Marner tells Mrs. Winthrop that Eppie has changed his life because she brought light enough for him to “trusten by.” This idea of light and trust is two-fold. First, Marner is continuing a metaphor Mrs. Winthrop began earlier in their conversation when she referred to some things that are “dark” to humans: things we cannot explain or understand. On the other hand, those things that are "light" to us are so clear and obvious that they will never be questioned. Silas Marner feels this way about his love for Eppie. Marner also gains a newfound trust in God and in humanity because of Eppie’s presence in his life. Her love showed him the value of companionship and the value of being part of the society of Raveloe, and seemed to show him that a benevolent God brought Eppie to him in the first place.

Part 2, Conclusion Quotes

“…he [Silas Marner had brought a blessing on himself by acting like a father to a lone motherless child.”

Related Characters: Silas Marner
Page Number: 151
Explanation and Analysis:

The villagers of Raveloe praise Marner for his kindness in taking in Eppie years earlier. This praise directly links Marner’s act of kindness to his own good fortune years down the road. Because he was a father to an orphaned child, he has “brought a blessing on himself.” This statement supposes that one’s actions have direct and long-term consequences in one's life. As a whole, this novel upholds this idea, as good characters meet good ends, bad characters meet bad ends, and morally ambiguous characters have mixed ends to their narratives. This gives the novel a moral tone, as it presents a lesson about the way decisions continue to influence one’s life for years to come. It also relies on a sense of trust that, despite bumps along the way, people who hold onto their faith and act out of kindness are blessed. The world of this novel is not a world of chance occurrences—actions and character traits are rewarded or punished according to moral standards.