Silas Marner


George Eliot

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The Limits of Human Knowledge Theme Analysis

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Fear of the Unknown Theme Icon
The Limits of Human Knowledge Theme Icon
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The Limits of Human Knowledge Theme Icon

While characters in Silas Marner may influence their own future through their choices and actions, certain key events depend upon inexplicable good or bad fortune appearing in characters’ lives. Such events may be attributed to chance or to the will of a divine being. Regardless of chosen explanations, these events are beyond the control and rational understanding of George Eliot’s characters.

While the reader is presented with the full account of Dunstan’s theft and Eppie’s appearance in Silas Marner’s cottage, to Marner both the loss and gain are of a magical, mysterious nature. Upon Eppie’s appearance on his heath, Marner assumes that her presence must be the result of a divine act because he cannot imagine an ordinary way by which this child might have appeared. Later, Marner can only explain this mysterious event in terms of an exchange from an unknown source: the money is gone to an unknown place and Eppie has arrived from an unknown place.

Similarly, Marner is never able to resolve the false accusations leveled against him in Lantern Yard because the town is completely replaced by new buildings and new townsfolk when he returns there thirty years later. When Marner recounts this story to Dolly Winthrop, she describes the reasons behind events as “dark” to human perception. Dolly Winthrop’s character presents the viewpoint that human knowledge is limited and omniscience belongs to higher powers. Mrs. Winthrop’s acceptance of the restricted scope of human knowledge is expressed as she discusses why Silas Marner was falsely accused in his youth at Lantern Yard. She believes that the true good behind all events is known only to some divine being. The country wisdom of the men at the Rainbow, the local pub, follows a similar pattern. While the local folks are strongly influenced by superstition, cringing from fears of ghosts or other unexplained phenomena, they don’t seek answers to their questions, but instead admit that there are explanations beyond human knowledge.

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The Limits of Human Knowledge ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in Silas Marner related to the theme of The Limits of Human Knowledge.
Chapter 5 Quotes

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?

Related Characters: Silas Marner
Related Symbols: Gold
Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:
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:
Chapter 12 Quotes

[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!

Related Characters: Silas Marner
Related Symbols: Gold, The Hearth
Related Literary Devices:
Page Number: 93
Explanation and Analysis:
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:
Chapter 14 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Silas Marner, Eppie
Related Symbols: Gold
Page Number: 103
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 18 Quotes

“Everything comes to light, Nancy, sooner or later. When God Almighty wills it, our secrets are found out.”

Related Characters: Godfrey Cass (speaker), Nancy Lammeter
Page Number: 135
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 20 Quotes

“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.”

Related Characters: Godfrey Cass (speaker), Godfrey Cass, Eppie, Nancy Lammeter, Molly Farren
Page Number: 146
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 21 Quotes

“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.”

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