Silas Marner

Discuss whether Silas Marners' gains and loses were all planned by Providence.

Discuss whether Silas Marners' gains and loses were all planned by Providence.

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Who is lucky in Silas Marner? The question is not simple. Dunstan Cass, who calls himself "such a lucky fellow," and who certainly seems lucky as he avoids all of the awful repercussions of his sadism and selfishness, plummets to the bottom of the Stone-pits just after his luck allows him to steal Marner's gold. Godfrey Cass, who considers himself the most miserable and unlucky fellow in the world, is by a morbid stroke of fortune able to marry the woman he loves, Nancy, after his secret first wife perishes on her way to expose his past. Even that unlucky woman, Molly, was lucky enough at one time to marry a Squire's firstborn son. And then there is the obvious case of Silas Marner: not so lucky in the drawing of the lots that sent him out of Lantern Yard disgraced and traumatized, but very lucky indeed that Eppie toddled into his life as though by a miracle.

One of the main themes of Silas Marner is the nature of chance, and perhaps the only definite judgment one can make about chance as represented in the novel is that chance is not to be trusted. Everyone has good turns and bad-and we do not always know which is which until much later. Marner's losing his gold, which he takes to be the worst thing that could possibly happen to him, is actually the best, because it clears a space in his life for Eppie. The death of Godfrey's first wife and Marner's subsequent adoption of his daughter, which Godfrey believes to be a most amazing stroke of good fortune, turns out horribly for him in the end. He ends up desiring Eppie in his life more than he ever desired Nancy. The only thing that can sort good luck from bad at the time it happens is a set of principles or hierarchy of values. Godfrey realized it was wrong to pretend Eppie was not his child; he did so anyway, calling it good luck, and paid in the end. Marner realized it was right to consider Eppie's arrival a blessing where others would have called it a burden. In this novel, the principle of mutual human love and devotion may be at the top of the hierarchy of values, which the random compass of chance cannot easily reach. This principle may be the only trustworthy keystone in Eliot's unpredictable world.

Outside of that world, we see that chance is not random after all, but guided entirely by the author. The characters meet their poetic justice: the good end up lucky or rewarded, while the bad are unlucky or punished. If there is a God in the novel, Eliot plays the part. The characters themselves see a providential hand guiding their fate, as in Marner's and Dolly's theological conversations, and they have a sharp nose for poetic justice. For instance, Godfrey Cass realizes that he "passed for childless once" because he wanted to and, unfortunately, he "shall pass for childless now against [his] wish." This moral tidiness reflects the fairy-tale character of the novel.

Even so, the novel also reflects the messy complexity of reality, and chance serves this purpose as well. Near the book's end, the wise Marner says, despite his apparent perfect happiness, "things will change, whether we like it or no; things won't go on for a long while just as they are and no difference." Thus, chance will continue to operate, for better or worse. Pain will come, joy will come, and one can learn from each revolution of the wheel of fortune.