Silas Marner Summary and Analysis
by George Eliot
Part One, Chapters 6-8
At the Rainbow tavern, while the personages of Raveloe attend Mrs. Osgood's dance, some of the less lofty villagers drink and talk. Among these is the landlord, Mr. Snell, whose outlook on most matters is neutral, and whose position in most arguments is that of a mediator, befitting one who needs to sell drinks to men of all walks of life. The skeptical farrier, Mr. Dowlas, cannot enter a conversation without contradicting somebody. Mr. Ben Winthrop, a large and jolly wheelwright who leads the church choir on Sundays, and Mr. Macey, an old man who is full of anecdotes of a Raveloe now mostly past, are two of the other principals in a series of arguments and stories.
In order to distract the company from a pointless argument going on between Mr. Dowlas and the village butcher about a shorthorn cow, Mr. Snell asks Mr. Macey to talk about the Lammeters, the history of whom he knows better than almost anyone. Despite occasional interruptions, Mr. Macey tells about the Lammeters' father arriving in Raveloe from the north, buying the Warrens, and settling into the community. Mr. Macey recalls a peculiar happening at the wedding of Mr. Lammeter and Miss Osgood: when the old rector, Mr. Drumlow, came to the point of pronouncing Mr. Lammeter and Miss Osgood "man and wife," he made a ridiculous mistake. He said, "Wilt thou have this man to be thy wedded wife" to Miss Osgood, and, "Wilt thou have this woman to be thy wedded husband" to Mr. Lammeter. Neither the rector nor the marrying couple caught the error, and they were joined in matrimony in this backward way.
Mr. Macey, with a little further prompting, embarks on the story of the Warrens, Mr. Lammeter's property. The previous owner of the Warrens had been Mr. Cliff, who built an enormous stable to house his horses. After the death of his son, Mr. Cliff spent long nights in the stable, cracking his whip, and many folks of Raveloe believe that his ghost now haunts the stables.
At this mention of haunting Mr. Dowlas sneers. He adamantly refuses to believe in ghosts and takes up bets that he could stay a night at the stable without seeing a ghost. His superstitious company says that of course he would see no ghosts, because he does not believe in them. The chapter ends with Mr. Macey declaring ironically, "As if ghosts would want to be believed in by anyone so ignorant!"
When pale, cold, shrunken Silas Marner is suddenly seen standing in the warm light of the Rainbow, the folks at the bar, the skeptical Mr. Dowlas included, at first mistake him for a ghost himself. For a few moments, while Marner catches his breath, no one says a thing, until finally the landlord speaks up and asks Marner in a more or less friendly way what his business at the Rainbow may be.
Marner gasps that he has been robbed and, seeing Jem Rodney among the company, immediately accuses him of the crime. Jem denies the charge, and the landlord prevails upon Marner to tell them his whole tale. Marner, seated uncharacteristically in the middle of a circle of interested faces, persuades the villagers by the "convincing simplicity of his distress" that he is in fact telling the truth: he indeed has been robbed. The landlord tells Marner that Jem Rodney is not the culprit, since he has been sitting with them all evening. Marner apologizes to Jem.
Mr. Dowlas begins to organize a party to help Marner, saying that because Marner's vision is so poor they ought to have another going-over of the scene of the crime with Mr. Kench, the constable. Mr. Dowlas, in a roundabout way, volunteers himself as one who might accompany Marner to Kench's, and the landlord consents to be another of that party.
As Marner and his impromptu posse begin their investigation, we return to Godfrey Cass, who is just returning from Mrs. Osgood's birthday party dance, his thoughts swimming with visions of Nancy Lammeter. He is so distracted with his love for Nancy and his disgust at himself that he does not notice Dunstan's absence, nor does he give a thought to the outcome of the Wildfire/Dunstan/Mr. Fowler affair.
The next morning, however, Godfrey is swept up, like the rest of the village, by the exciting news about the robbery at Marner's place. The investigation the night before had turned up one piece of evidence, a tinder-box, which the villagers assume to be the thief's. Mr. Snell recalls that a mysterious pedlar, who had been in the region recently, had carried a tinder-box to light his pipe when he had stopped in at the Rainbow for a drink. This stranger is recalled as a swarthy, foreign-looking fellow, "bod[ing] little honesty" in the prejudiced imaginations of the villagers. Only Godfrey Cass voices an opinion that the pedlar was not so evil-looking a creature as the village has made him out to be--but his opinion is dismissed as a youthful speculation. The elders of the village are fairly well convinced of the pedlar's guilt.
Several days pass in the course of the investigation, and meanwhile Godfrey has grown anxious about the outcome of Dunstan's attempt to sell Wildfire. Bryce stops by to tell Godfrey about Wildfire's impalement, and Godfrey feels growing within him the need to finally come clean before his father about the whole affair: not just the Wildfire incident, but also about his secret marriage to Molly. In the morning light, however, Godfrey's resolution fails him and he is once again overwhelmed by the thought of unfavorable consequences. He decides to approach his father about Dunstan's absence and Wildfire's death, but to mitigate Dunstan's fault as much as possible so that, for the time being at least, his marriage to Molly can remain a secret.
Chapter 6 is probably the most famous chapter of Silas Marner, which may be surprising given that it probably contributes the least to the plot. It was often singled out for praise at the time of its publication, and it has continued to stand as supremely representative of George Eliot's unique artistry. After two of the most exciting chapters of the novel, Chapter 6 is a deliberate and radical change of tone, a hinge of sorts into the next major phase of the novel: Marner's reintegration into human life.
Chapter 6 does not provide particular information, but rather it gives a rich presentation of the character of the villagers, and thereby of the village. The effect is really quite funny, once readers accustom themselves to their dialect. There is no denying that Eliot has an incredible ability to make her "lower class" characters distinctively, almost satirically so, fully human and complicated. Perhaps only William Shakespeare is Eliot's equal in this delicate art of depicting people of the lower classes.
The major structural function of Chapter 6 is to provide a portrait of the "settled" villagers of Raveloe. We have already had a taste, from the very first words of the book, of the character of the wandering tradesmen, like Marner, who live lives of alienation and solitude. Now we see the rest of the village-the wheelwright, the farrier, the landlord of the tavern, the tailor, the butcher, and so on. These villagers ply their trades within the village proper, not out on the outskirts like Marner, or wandering from place to place like a peddler. They are the human hearts of village life (in addition to the higher-up villagers, those at Mrs. Osgood's party like Squire Cass, Mr. Crackenthorp the rector and Mr. Lammeter, the heads of Raveloe). Indeed, the speakers' professions are so central to their characters that for a good part of the chapter they are not referred to by name but as "the butcher," "the wheelwright," "the landlord," and so on.
Whereas Chapter 3 depicts the Squire and his sons as ultimately unaware of the instability of their position, which is soon to render them and those like them broke and obsolete, Chapter 6 shows that the low-status tradesmen of the village consciously historicize themselves. The tradesmen are very interested in the history of their own village and share collective memories rather than tales of leadership and power. The key to their collective memories is Mr. Macey, the eldest among them, who has been present for at least two generations and who retells the stories he recalls with an almost ritual regularity. These are stories of hauntings, of backwards marriages, of nature upended. They cast a spectral sheen on the villagers' lives.
Such stories also place the village authority in question. They are not stories about other working-class folk; the stories compromise the great families-the Lammeters-or the families that aspired to be great and fell short-the Cliffs. The villagers seem to realize that the folks in power are not destined to stay in power forever, that they too are subject to the passage of time, even if the legend of Mr. Cliff suggests that they keep in their places and not try to act like gentlemen themselves.
But village life is as much common sense as superstition, and the very same bunch who tremble at the thought of Mr. Lammeter's haunted stable also manage some cutting bits of horse sense. One particularly representative instance occurs when Mr. Macey says to Tookey, the local punching-bag, "There's allays two 'pinions; there's the 'pinion a man has of himsen, and there's the 'pinion other folks have on him. There'd be two 'pinions about a cracked bell, if the bell could hear itself." This epigram on self-knowledge seems quite astute, and it could be applied to many of the book's characters, especially the Casses. The clear irony in this case is that Mr. Macey himself has a very lofty self-opinion, so pleased at his own wit and intellect, while he is really a bit of a windbag.
Chapter 7 associates Marner again strongly with death, especially in his appearance out of the rain. Jem, upon seeing Marner says, "He's been robbed, and murdered too, for what I know." He is also compared to an insect again, when Dowlas chides him for his nearsightedness. These and other instances of the old prejudice about Marner is ghostly gradually give way, before the sincerity of his distress, to a revised opinion of the man: Marner is not dead after all, nor is he an insect, but he is an unfortunate, lonely soul. This small start is the beginning of a new view of Marner in the village. Marner initiated it by seeking help at the tavern. This is "the beginning of a growth" within him, Eliot writes. This is the re-growth, perhaps, of his human soul, though he has a long way still to go.
Chapter 7 thus sets in motion a tentative reentry of Marner into society. The experience of seeking the help of others in the village is entirely novel to him, and although the effect of "feeling the presence of faces and voices" and "sitting in the warmth of a hearth not his own" is not immediately apparent to Marner, it has its effect.
Eliot also continues the ironic strain of Chapter 6, wryly commenting on the villagers' interpretations of Marner's distress. For example, when Mr. Macey and the rest propose that a supernatural fiend is responsible for stealing Marner's treasure, Eliot writes, "Why this preternatural felon should be obliged to wait till the door was left unlocked, was a question which did not present itself." She also very delicately renders Mr. Dowlas's volunteering of himself as a deputy, which he clearly wants to be, if only for the authority such a position will grant him, but which he manages while pretending that he is being put upon to be deputized.
Perhaps the most signifcant interpretation of Marner's visit to the Rainbow, though, is that Marner has come to the right place in coming to the Rainbow to find his gold. The pun here is that Marner appears not so much as a ghost as a shrunken, somewhat supernatural leprechaun. He does not find his gold here, although he takes the first step in realizing his new gold: a renewed faith and humanity.
Chapter 8 serves the dual function of continuing the entanglement of Marner's and Raveloe's affairs, shown in the general interest in the investigation, and of reintroducing us to the doings of the Casses, who have been absent from the novel for quite a while. It is also, like Chapter 4 for Dunstan, a portrait of Godfrey's character at a moment of crisis.
Godfrey's character is hardly malicious like Dunstan's. He shows flashes of wisdom and honesty, as in his quiet assertion that the pedlar everyone blames for the theft of Marner's gold is not such an evil-looking fellow as people have said. Unlike his brother, who delights in telling falsehoods even when everyone knows they are false, Godfrey hates to lie. Godfrey's main problem is that he is a coward. Although he hates his deception, he figures that his current misery, to which he has grown much accustomed, is better than the unknown consequences of coming clean.
But secret stashes-whether they involve a wife in Batherly or bags of gold in a hole in the floor-are not good for the soul. Godfrey, like Marner, is in need of redemption. Their two fates are thus tied together thematically, and they will soon be even more closely tied.
As for the detective story emerging in the village, Eliot depicts the villagers as naturally inclined to spread the blame for any crime outside the village proper. Their collective imagination, ignited, fittingly, by the tinder-box, naturally creates an unnamed, swarthy, foreign pedlar as the interloper who disturbed their peace. Until his latest misfortune, at least, Marner and the pedlar were considered to be of the same "race"-being wanderers, outsiders. Marner too was demonized in the general opinion, and some of the village still holds to the opinion that he is diabolical, either faking his robbery or in trouble with some otherworldly power come to take his gold away.
But Marner has now joined somewhat in the throng blaming an utterly guiltless pedlar for the robbery of his hoard. This is an ambivalent fact: it shows Marner's integration into the "us" rather than the "them," while at the same time it suggests that such an integration is possible largely through the demonization of "someone else"-the ubiquitous "other." Marner is no longer, perhaps, an outsider. He's merely a local oddity who has been "mushed," misused by fate. But the poor innocent pedlar instantly fills the hole Marner left in the local imagination. Along these same lines, it is not hard to imagine that if someone else's stash had been stolen, poor harmless Silas Marner immediately would have been the villagers' natural suspect.
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- Character List
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
- Summary and Analysis of Part One, Chapters 1-2
- Summary and Analysis of Part One, Chapters 3-5
- Summary and Analysis of Part One, Chapters 6-8
- Summary and Analysis of Part One, Chapters 9-11
- Summary and Analysis of Part One, Chapters 12-15
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- Summary and Analysis of Part Two, Chapters 18-20
- Summary and Analysis of Part Two, Chapter 21 and Conclusion
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