In Silas Marner, the author George Eliot presents a universe in which characters’ personalities and actions determine their fates. This authorial morality secures justice for Silas Marner and for Godfrey Cass, as well as for several secondary characters. While Marner is initially wrongly accused of a crime in Lantern Yard, his later generosity toward Eppie determines his ultimate happiness. At the ending of the novel, the neighbors at Eppie and Aaron’s wedding discuss Marner’s choice to adopt a small orphan girl. The general consensus is that such an act of kindness will secure his future blessings.
The novel ends with Eppie’s declaration of her and Marner’s happiness after she refuses to live with her biological father Godfrey Cass. Cass is a morally ambiguous character. He is kind and considerate, but also makes selfish and wrong decisions when he abandons his daughter, Eppie, to another’s care. Godfrey’s fate is an appropriate combination of punishment and reward for his choices. While Godfrey marries the love of his life, Nancy, his happiness is incomplete, as he and Nancy can’t have any children. Despite Godfrey’s later repentance, Eppie chooses to ignore Godfrey’s attempts to adopt her because he has neglected her for sixteen years. For her part, Nancy believes that divine providence determines one’s fate. She strongly resists Godfrey’s interest in adopting a child because adoption is an attempt to circumvent the life given by God.
In this way, moral outcomes in the novel are linked to the power of divine influence. Other secondary characters receive similar moral treatment. Godfrey’s first wife, Molly, dies in a snowstorm after consuming opium. The drug had been ruining her life and her relationship with her husband for some time. Godfrey’s brother, Dunstan, dies in the stone pit directly after he robs Silas Marner. His body and Marner’s gold are discovered years later.
Morality Quotes in Silas Marner
“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.”
His [Godfrey’s] natural irresolution and moral cowardice were exaggerated by a position in which dreaded consequences seemed to press equally on all sides, and his irritation had no sooner provoked him to defy Dunstan and anticipate all possible betrayals, than the miseries he must bring on himself by such a step seemed more unendurable to him than the present evil.
If the weaver was dead, who had a right to his money? Who would know where his money was hidden? Who would know that anybody had come to take it away? He [Dunstan] went no farther into the subtleties of evidence: the pressing question, "Where is the money?" now took such entire possession of him as to make him quite forget that the weaver's death was not a certainty. A dull mind, once arriving at an inference that flatters a desire, is rarely able to retain the impression that the notion from which the inference started was purely problematic. And Dunstan's mind was as dull as the mind of a possible felon usually is.
Was it a thief who had taken the bags? Or was it a cruel power that no hands could reach, which had delighted in making him [Silas Marner] a second time desolate?
He [Godfrey Cass] was not likely to be very penetrating in his judgments, but he had always had a sense that his father's indulgence had not been kindness, and had had a vague longing for some discipline that would have checked his own errant weakness and helped his better will.
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.
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.
[Silas Marner] was stooping to push his logs together, when, to his blurred vision, it seemed as if there were gold on the floor in front of the hearth. Gold!—his own gold—brought back to him as mysteriously as it had been taken away!
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.
Thought and feeling were so confused within him [Silas Marner], that if he had tried to give them utterance, he could only have said that the child was come instead of the gold—that the gold had turned into the child.
“…the little child had come to link him [Silas Marner] once more with the whole world.”
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.
“Everything comes to light, Nancy, sooner or later. When God Almighty wills it, our secrets are found out.”
“…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.”
“…but repentance doesn't alter what's been going on for sixteen year.”
“She thinks I did wrong by her mother as well as by her. She thinks me worse than I am. But she must think it: she can never know all. It's part of my punishment, Nancy, for my daughter to dislike me.”
“It's the will o' Them above as a many things should be dark to us; but there's some things as I've never felt i' the dark about, and they're mostly what comes i' the day's work. You were hard done by that once, Master Marner, and it seems as you'll never know the rights of it; but that doesn't hinder there being a rights, Master Marner, for all it's dark to you and me.”
“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.”
“…he [Silas Marner had brought a blessing on himself by acting like a father to a lone motherless child.”