Silas Marner

When Silas Marner arrives in the traditional English village of Raveloe, he is an outsider. He is a religious outcast who has been expelled from his church and home — his only comfort is counting his money and keeping himself separate from the rest of the village. But then his gold is stolen, and replaced by the almost mystical arrival of a toddler, Eppie, who helps him learn to love, integrate with his community, and finally be happy. It is an almost sickly sweet plot, but the writer George Eliot imbues the novel with much larger themes around the importance of religion, tradition, industrialisation — and what it means to have a home.


The village is deeply suspicious of Silas when he arrives. Not only is he a religious outsider, but he seems to go out of his way to separate himself from the close-knit community. But by the end of the novel, it is Silas who truly brings them together. Do we still fear the people we don’t understand?


Silas obsessively counts his gold every night before bed — until one of the wealthy brothers from the Cass family steals it and disappears, leaving Silas with nothing. But in the end, it is not money which brings him — or the rich Casses — true happiness.


Silas is a dissenter — meaning he has broken away from the Anglican church in favour of a more radical branch of Christianity. He shared this history with George Eliot herself. But the village slowly brings him around to its communal, supportive style of Christianity. How important are religious traditions?


The novel was published in 1861, as the industrial revolution was in full swing. But it is set a few decades earlier, in a traditional rural England on the cusp of great change. This is why, as a weaver, Silas’s loom is such a key symbol in the novel: it foreshadows the much larger machines that would soon change English life forever.


What does it mean to be home? Silas is devastated to leave his birthplace, Lantern Yard. But when he returns decades later, his former home has been replaced by a large, grim factory — only his memories remain. But has he, against the odds, found something better?