Light and Darkness in Silas Marner
There is a reason people are afraid of the dark. For anyone who has ever seen a single horror movie, it is clear that when the lights go off the bad guys and monsters come out, and all one has to do to make them go back into hiding is turn the lights back on. In George Eliot’s novel Silas Marner, Silas’s life is reflected by this same idea. His life is put in the dark when he is accused of theft and leaves his hometown Lantern Yard only to be excluded and even more alone in his new home, Raveloe, turning him to the companionship of money rather than people. However, his inner demons go away when he adopts an orphan, Eppie, bringing his life back into light and community. The movement from darkness to light characterizes the initial exclusion and eventual rebirth in Silas Marner’s life.
When Silas’s life takes a turn for the negative, there are many symbols that represent his life as one in darkness. His life is initially characterized by darkness from living in Lantern Yard. Silas, a native to Lantern Yard and a devout Christian, is watching over his town’s dying deacon at night when he has a cataleptic fit, preventing him from moving, seeing what is happening, or knowing any time has passed, when his ex-best friend William Dane comes into the house, steals the church money from the deacon’s bedside and plants Silas’s pocketknife in return as to frame Silas for the theft. This represents the first of many evils in Silas’s life, all of which occur in the night or darkness. Silas is kicked out of the church and his fiancée calls off their marriage, prompting him to leave Lantern Yard for another town, Raveloe, in which his life consists of seemingly endless solitude, driving him to greedily seek company in his gold earnings from weaving. The town name of Lantern Yard is ironic yet significant because although it sounds like a place of light, it actually brings Silas nothing but darkness as he loses everything and everyone he has ever known, saying that, “The little light [Silas] possessed spread its beams so narrowly that frustrated belief was a curtain broad enough to create for him the blackness of night” (Eliot 14). Silas felt close to God right up until the moment when the casting of the lots deemed him guilty, and Lantern Yard symbolizes the dying light of Silas’s faith, which instead turns into a dark soul when he moves to Raveloe, a place that rejects newcomers.
In his new town, Silas feels that “there was nothing that called out his love and fellowship toward the strangers he has come amongst; and the future was all dark, for there was no Unseen Love that cared for him” (Eliot 14). This is how Silas’s life in Raveloe continues for 15 years—no kinship or religion to bring light and joy into Silas’s life, but only darkness and hopelessness. In the midst of this, another evil arises out of the darkness—greed. Silas spends his days thoughtless at his loom, but “at night came his revelry: at night he closed his shutters, and made fast his doors, and drew out his gold” (Eliot 19). Silas begins to worship and obsess over his gold, dragging his mind into and endless loop of greed at his love for money and anxiety at the thought of losing it. However, one dark and stormy night he neglects to lock his door while leaving for an errand, and Dunsey Cass slips into his cottage without obstacle and steals his money. Soon afterwards, Silas discovers the absence of his idol, and, “The sight of the empty hole made his heart leap violently, but the belief that his gold was gone could not come at once—only terror, and the eager effort to put an end to the terror” (Eliot 40). Once again, Silas’s life is plunged into darkness as the only thing he has to cling onto is wrenched from his grasp. All of the torments in Silas’s life source from the darkness in which thieves can go unnoticed and there are no responsibilities to distract from lust and sin. However, it is these dim events and Silas’s despaired reaction to them that bring him the most light.
Silas’s life changes for the best as new light comes to him through companionship. He first finds companionship in his neighbors in Raveloe though their pity for him because of the robbery. They are more able to relate to him now that he is just as poor as the rest of them, and they comfort him in the Rainbow when he tells the story of the theft of his gold. Trying their best to find the culprit of the crime and bringing Silas meals to make up for the ones he can no longer afford, they welcome Silas into the folds of their community, and although he still feels like an outsider to some, Dolly Winthrop is kind to him and becomes his best friend, and even the vain parish clerk Mr. Macey defends him to the other townsfolk. However, the real light enters Silas’s life through Eppie, his adopted daughter. Molly Farren is trudging towards the Red House in the snow when she overdoses on opium and dies with her child in her arms. Her child, seeing the light of the hearth in the open door of Silas’s cottage, stumbles in and falls asleep in front of the fire.
Silas has another cataleptic fit as he opens the door because he hears the noise of Molly and Eppie walking, leaving the door wide open for Eppie to tumble in unnoticed, and when he recovers and sees her, his immediate thought is that her golden curls are actually his guineas returned. Although he is initially disappointed that she is not, she brings more light into his life than his gold ever had as he adopts her and they grow an unbelievably close bond. Her joyful presence excite the neighbors when Silas and Eppie come around, and any remaining thought of Silas as a creepy old miser disappears when they see the kind deed he has done by taking the child in and loving her as his own. Eppie leads Silas away from exclusion and despair just as “men are led away from threatening destruction; a hand is put into theirs, which leads them forth gently towards a calm and bright land, so that they look no more backward; and the hand may be a little child’s” (Eliot 134). This allusion to the story of Lot being led out of Sodom and Gomorrah by an angel shows the complete turnaround Eppie brings into Silas’s life—from loneliness to community, from darkness to light. Even though Silas’s questions about God and the casting of the lots in Lantern Yard will never be answered, Silas is content, saying, “Since the time the child was sent to me and I’ve come to love her as myself, I’ve had enough light to trusten by” (Eliot 181). Silas means by this that even though the casting of the lots caused him to lose his faith in God, he trusts in the Lord once again because He blessed him with Eppie, who brought new meaning and love into his life.
Silas’s life, once in darkness representing isolation, is transformed into light and companionship. Although the darkness in Silas’s life initially brought him nothing but pain, he is eventually able to come to terms with darkness and not view it as something negative. When Silas is disappointed to find that Lantern Yard has been transformed into a factory town and he will never receive his answers about faith and the lots, Dolly consoles him that maybe the darkness is not all bad, saying, “It’s the will o’ Them above as 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” (Eliot 180). Silas accepts that not all darkness is bad, but it is God’s will to keep some things in the dark while others in the light. The seemingly impossible coincidences of the timing of Dunsey entering Silas’s cottage the only time it was ever unlocked and vacant and the precise moments in which Silas fell into fits during which the church money was stolen and later Eppie walked into his cottage show that although God seemed to have abandoned Silas after the casting of the lots, He actually did not, but instead had to temporarily shed darkness on Silas’s life so that he could later be renewed with greater light than before. This reconciliation of light and darkness in Silas’s life finally allows him to have peace with his past and present life.
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