Molly’s burial occurs without great notice, and without any tears, but her death has redirected the lives of several individuals in Raveloe. Silas Marner’s decision to raise the child is met with surprise, and women throughout the village advise him on what he must do to care for the girl. Dolly Winthrop is the one whom Marner prefers to take advice from. She talks with Marner about the disappearance of his money and the appearance of the girl, saying it’s like the night and the morning, or sleeping and waking…one goes only to be replaced by the other.
Molly’s death is characterized as fate, not chance, that has redirected several lives in Raveloe. Marner’s interest in raising the child is out of character for a man at this time period. It is only the women of Raveloe, and not other men, who give him help and advice about raising children. Dolly Winthrop’s growing friendship with Marner allows the two to discuss his lost money and the found little girl.
While Silas Marner appreciates Dolly’s advice, he prefers to do everything he can himself to care for the little girl. Marner decides to tie the child’s leg to his loom with a long linen strip while he works, in order to keep her out of mischief. Dolly tells Marner that he must bring the girl to church and have her christened in order to raise her properly. Christening is not a religious concept Marner was exposed to in Lantern Yard.
Marner’s decision to tie the girl to his loom to keep her out of trouble may shock a modern audience, but is perfectly acceptable within the context of the book. Bringing her to church and christening her makes the child officially a part of Raveloe society, accepted by their religious customs.
Silas Marner decides to do whatever he can that is best for the girl, and to have her christened he names her Hephzibah after his mother and deceased little sister. Dolly says she ought to have a nickname, and Marner decides to call her Eppie. Marner finally attends church for Eppie’s christening, but the practices and congregation are so different than what he knew in Lantern Yard that he cannot identify any of the experience with his old faith.
Marner’s choice of Eppie’s name links him to his family and his own youth. Finally attending church, however, does not remind him of his past for the church of Raveloe is vastly different. The religious organizations in the book highlight the diversity of practices and ideas within Christianity at this time.
Silas Marner’s gold, when it had been the center of his attention, needed nothing, and could be worshipped in isolation. Eppie, on the other hand, needs many things that carry his attention away from his solitary weaving and form ties between him and his neighbors. As he walks outside with Eppie, Marner begins to again gather the herbs for remedies that had once interested him. As the child grows, Marner’s mind grows back into his memories, allowing him to think on a distant past he had tried to forget for years.
In growing and changing in order to help and care for Eppie, part of Marner’s change is a renewal of ideas and memories from his past, such as his collection of herbs. The gold had closed off his heart, and also his memories, for it did not cause him to think about and face his past, as Eppie’s presence does.
Eppie grows into a troublesome toddler, but Marner finds he never has the heart to punish her despite Dolly Winthrop’s insistence that some discipline is for her own good. Because Marner will not hit or scold his daughter, Dolly suggests shutting her in the coal hole as a form of punishment. Marner fears punishing her because he worries she will love him less afterwards.
Marner cannot bear the idea of punishment because of his desperate need for Eppie’s love. Marner may fear punishment because of his past, in which he was punished for something he did not do. Marner’s failure to discipline Eppie recalls the Squire’s failure to discipline his sons, though there is a sense that Marner refrains because of his love for Eppie while the Squire’s indulgence is founded not in love but laziness.
One day, however, Eppie causes more mischief than usual. Using Marner’s scissors, she cuts herself free of the linen strip and runs outside. When next Marner reaches for his scissors, he discovers Eppie is gone and instantly fears she has fallen in the Stone Pit or is hurt or dead. When he finds her in the field, he is so relieved that he hugs and kisses her, only remembering, after carrying her home, that he should discipline her. Feeling he is using a strong measure, he shuts her in the coal hole for just a moment. Later, after Eppie’s bath, Marner turns around to find her happily back in the coal hole.
Eppie’s act of cutting herself free of her tie to the loom shows not only how strongly Marner clings to her, but may remind readers that, at some point, most children are cut free from their parents. Marner is concerned primarily for her safety, rather than disciplining her, and he does not punish her immediately. The failure of the punishment portrays Marner as an inexperienced parent.
The failure of the coal hole punishment discourages Marner from ever again attempting to discipline Eppie. Marner carries the little girl with him on journeys and deliveries. Everywhere the pair goes they are met with cheerfulness, questions, and neighbors eager to talk about the child. The children of the village are no longer afraid to approach Marner when Eppie is with him. She links Marner with the community and with other people. He no longer is interested in gold, other than as a means to secure what Eppie needs.
Eppie receives not only Marner’s unwavering kindness, but his full attention. Their bond strengthens from the time they spend together, but also through Marner’s new engagement with Raveloe life and society. Eppie directs and consumes his life as much as his gold did, but this causes him to interact with others rather than withdraw.
In the olden days, there were stories of angels who descended to earth to save men from destruction. While such angels may no longer be seen, men may still be guided from destruction, even by the hand of a child.
George Eliot presents Eppie as an angel-like figure, golden-haired and innocent. Her role in Marner’s life is to save him from isolation and darkness, as an angel might have done.