Silas Marner

How does the Industrial Revolution influence social class?

how industrial revolution influenced social class

Asked by
Last updated by jill d #170087
Answers 1
Add Yours

Theme of Class

Silas Marner centers around two households, Marner's cottage by the stone-pits and the Cass manor, the Red House. These two settings represent class extremes, and the people of Raveloe know it. The cottage is the ramshackle abode of the lowliest member of Raveloe society; the manor is a sprawling home filled with gentry and a location for dances. Rather than set an impermeable boundary between these two worlds, Eliot stages many intersections between the two households.Dunstan Cass, who is a member of the moneyed class, enters Marner's home looking for money. Silas Marner, lowly and miserable, raises a Squire's granddaughter as his own child.Godfrey Cass, though he owns Marner's cottage at the end of the novel, is actually in the weaver's debt. These are just a few instances of the permeability of class boundaries in the novel.

In Raveloe, strict boundaries of class do not necessarily lead to greater happiness among the higher classes. Indeed, those with money-or those who are supposed to have money-tend to be the most harried and corrupt characters, such as Dunstan, Godfrey, and even Silas before Eppie. The person most oppressed by circumstances in Silas Marner is perhaps Godfrey Cass, who finds himself at the mercy of a lower-class wife, who fails to have children of his own, and who ends up envying the bond of a lowly weaver and his daughter. Silas Marner and Eppie, on the other hand, though they do not have status or wealth, have power over the Casses and seem to enjoy unmitigated happiness.

The Rainbow tavern and the church in Raveloe also serve as places where class differences are evident. The Rainbow becomes quite a different place when the "gentles" are having a dance; during these times (in Chapter Six, for instance), the lesser villagers, like Mr. Macey, reign over the Rainbow, telling stories all the while about the landed members of society. At the church, the important members of society sit in assigned seats at the front of the church while the rest of the villagers sit behind them and watch. In both these places, although everyone recognizes the status difference between the common villagers and the gentry, this difference does not seem to be a problem in Raveloe. The lower classes have not been fed the broth of revolt; they seem quite content. Meanwhile, the upper classes are not oppressive or cruel slave drivers like their factory-owning counterparts. In fact, the gentry rely upon the villagers to sincerely appreciate their importance and value in the town. It is Mr. Macey, not Mr. Lammeter, who celebrates the history of the Warrens. And without the respectful, watching eyes of the villagers, the front-row seats in church would have less dignity.

Thus, Silas Marner tends to represent class differences with historical accuracy. Eliot seems drawn to this pre-industrial era, when there was an easygoing class hierarchy in country towns. Compare the relatively class-indifferent respect that is shown in Raveloe to the horrible factory in the manufacturing town that Marner and Eppie visit in Chapter Twenty-One. The industrial world treats the lower classes as inhuman cogs in the factory wheels. In Raveloe's trade-based society, meanwhile, each villager can play an important role in the success of the society. That is, the weaver is respected to some degree by the Squire if he weaves his linens well. Even so, one might reasonably argue that Eliot's idyllic depiction of happy peasants romanticizes the difficulties of the class differences in nineteenth-century England.