Theme of Love in Silas Marner
Show how the theme of love is shown in the novel Silas Marner.
Most literary discourse about Silas Marner accepts love as one of its key concerns. Any discussion of how love is ‘shown’ in the novel requires an examination of the role and function of love a a thematic idea. Since the plot resolution of the novel is primarily concerned with the achievement of purpose and moral reward, especially by the protagonist, any discussion of love inevitably centres around the means by which it enables an individual to be ‘redeemed’ or achieve purpose. Accordingly, this essay will discuss how love is shown by examining three key ideas. These are that unselfish love has the power to redeem an individual, that the lack of genuine love in religious and social structures poisons or reduces the power of these institutions, and finally that an unwillingness to act on the convictions of love leads ultimately to moral insufficiency.
The central focus of the novel, love, is shown by the link that Eliot draws between unselfish love and the prospect of achievement of individual purpose and moral worth. This is most clearly seen in the ‘redemption’ of Silas, which steadily progresses as he shows love and concern for Eppie. This transformation is directly shown by Eliot, who uses the metaphor of a ‘cold narrow prison’ to describe the life of Silas Marner before Eppie’s arrival. Here, the idea of ‘cold’ indicates a lack of human warmth, while the ‘narrow prison’ suggests a limit to Silas’ ability to act, see the world and connect with others, which in turn suggests that the lack of human love in his life resulted in an inability tro find his place and meaning in the wider world. His love for Eppie, however, transforms Silas. His care for Eppie is described as ‘reawakening his senses,’ the personification of ‘sesnses’ which connect one with the world and thus allow discovery of purpose, being used to show the revival or reawakening of Marner’s human capacity for human connection. It is important to note that it is selfless love which is shown to result in this transformation. Silas’ love is of this kind, as we are shown in the mention of his determination to keep the ‘”tramp’s child.”’ The third person narrator shows us that this was a ‘tramp’s child,’ using this colloquialism to suggest that the child was not highly valued by society and therefore that Silas had no ulterior motive in choosing to raise Eppie. To further this link between Silas’ love for Eppie and his achievement of purpose, we are told that ‘angels’ led men ‘away from the city of destruction.’ This is an allusion to Sodom and Gomorrah in the ‘city of destruction,’ which is used to show the extent of the tragedy, or ultimate loss of purpose, that Silas avoids by his love for Eppie, the ‘little child.’ Therefore, it is clear that a link between Silas’ transformation and his unselfish love for Eppie is drawn. Since this transformation is the key occurrence in the novel, love is shown to be a central focus.
Eliot’s presentation of loveless institutions and human structures as destructive to the human soul supports the idea that love is a central focus of the novel. This is suggested in the presentation of the religious community of Lantern Yard, where words such as ‘inquiry’ and ‘cause of the summons’ are used by Eliot when describing the Church’s investigation of Silas. These are reminiscent of technical and legalistic diction in ‘summons’ and ‘inquiry,’ both used in formal court systems. The use of such diction creates a sense of detachment and isolation from emotional concern, which is evident in legal systems and thus in Lantern Yard. Silas is also told ‘you will hear,’ when asking about the cause of this summons. The curtness of this reply and future tense used creates ambiguity which engenders a sense of suspense in the reader. This helps the reader empathise with the unloving preservation of superiority, and therefore lack of love, inherent in a hierarch which is unwilling to reveal Silas’ charge to him. We are also told that the trial was carried out as if the ‘eyes of God’s people were fixed upon’ Silas.’ The use of imagery here reminding the reader of the scrutiny placed upon the accuse, also reminiscent of inquisitorial court systems. This too supports the idea that Lantern Yard is devoid of love and compassion, and the role Lantern Yard has in expelling Silas and causing him to lose his direction in life is thus linked to the incapacity of Lantern Yard to detect William Dane’s hypocrisy because love is lacking. Therefore, the lack of love in institutions hurts the human person. This idea is further supported when Mr Macey remarks that a couple in Raveloe is still married despite the parson reciting the marriage vows ‘contrairy’ because ‘the glue’ which ‘sticks’ them together is still ‘right.’ Here, the colloquial image of the ‘glue’ represents the intangible aspect of marriage that is commitment and love, which is described as fundamental to the marriage. Therefore, the idea that institutions and social structures are meaningless without human love is supported, bringing out the idea that love is of central importance to the improvement of the social institutions present in the novel.
Silas Marner also forwards the message that an unwillingness to act on the convictions of love leads ultimately to moral insufficiency. This is clearly demonstrated in the character of Godfrey Cass, who refuses to admit that Eppie is his child because he fears castigation and thus suffers Eppie’s refusal to become his daughter when she has grown up. In support of this, we are told that Godfrey initially regards Silas’ adoption of Eppie as events turning out ‘so much better’ than the possibility of revelation that Eppie is Godfrey’s illegitimate child, a use of the omniscient narrator to show Godfrey’s relief. Godfrey further attempts to justify his leaving Eppie with Silas Marner by finding reasons that it might be good for Eppie because ‘he would see that it was cared for but ‘perhaps it might be just as happy in life without being owned by its father.’ Here, although the omniscient narrator reveals that Godfrey does feel love for Eppie because of his desire to see her cared for, the constant repetition of reasons why Eppie might be ‘happy’ without being owned by Godfrey reveals his need to rationalize his decision to himself and therefore the fact that it is morally wrong because it goes against his love for Eppie. Furthermore, this decision is shown to be made ultimately in self-interest, as we are told by the omniscient narrator that ‘the father would be much happier without owning the child,’ whereby the narrator cuts away Godfrey’s rationalization of his decision to reveal his underlying emotional reason for abandoning Eppie as self-interested. Therefore, Godfrey lacks the moral courage to act on his love for Eppie by caring for her. This leads Godfrey to end up ultimately unsatisfied in the resolution of the novel, as shown in how he feels the ‘frustration’ of an ‘exalted purpose’ to ‘compensate in some degree’ for abandoning Eppie, when Eppie chooses to stay with Silas Marner. The omniscient narrator reveals to us that Godfrey’s ultimate aim at this point in his life remains unfulfilled, because he has missed the opportunity to act on the convictions of love. Therefore, the novel puts forth the idea that not acting on the convictions of love leads ultimately to dissatisfaction and moral insufficiency.
To sum up, the idea of love is presented in a few central ways in Silas Marner. We are told that unselfish love has the power to redeem individual human beings, that religious and social structures lose their power without love and that the lack of love leads to a loss of purpose and moral worth.