After reading Middlemarch, I was expecting something much different from Silas Marner. While it is true that a decade separates the two novels, the transition to an epic-type novel, Middlemarch, which juggles non-ideal images of good and bad, from Silas Marner, a tale akin to a children’s story about morality, is a GIGANTIC leap. The explicit moral absolutes in Silas Marner are jarring mostly because of the juxtaposition to the moral grey areas throughout Middlemarch.
Before writing this blog I read the blogs of a few of my colleagues, and one in particular struck me as most contrary to my own readings, which necessarily excited my argumentative nature. Mackenzie contends that Silas Marner moves away from a biblical narrative to a salvation by the human community. I like this, and I think I see this reading in the text, but I also think it’s wrong. Christianity and christian imagery is prevalent in this text I can taste it like pepper on a pepper-crusted steak. Because, lets face it, the morality in the novel is christian morality. Let us count the ways:
1. The super Jewiness of the hunched “alien” money lover.
2. Worshiping money is bad and will lead to bad things.
3. The guy can only be happy when his money is taken away and replaced by a gold-headed child while he has been in a fit (perhaps religious).
4. (Most importantly) He can only be happy when he accepts Christianity: “you must bring her up like christened folks’s children, and take her to church, and let her learn her catechise…That’s what you must do, Master Marner, if you’d do the right thing by the orphin child” (123).
These are only the more obvious christian images present in the text; many more exist, but I’m tired and only have 500 words.
I like the idealism behind the image of a community bond outside of religion, but I do not think that it occurs in Silas Marner…personally…you’re still my girl, Mackenzie.
Within this christian morality then, right and wrong are very black and white and are punished in that fashion. Unlike Middlemarch we are actually pretty stoked at the end of Silas Marner because everyone got what they deserved, and it was all tied up in a nice package. Dunstan was crazy evil: he stole money and had no remorse when he practically killed a horse (not cool). We were all glad he had been dead the whole time and wasn’t allowed to even spend a penny of Silas’ money. Molly, Eppie’s mother, was a drug addict. While she seemed to have maternal feeling for her daughter, she obviously didn’t provide well, as the child was wearing rags. She died a quite death in the snow. While we probably weren’t cheering on her death, in the moral sense, she paid for her crimes and delivered the child to a better home. Silas was unjustly treated by his friends and fell into the non-holy habit of hoarding money, but when a Jesus-like child appeared at his hearth he embraced her (and Christianity). Because of these good things, Silas is rewarded with love and is cured of his addiction to money, and he gets his money back so Eppie can live a good life.
And they all lived happily ever…WAIT…What about Godfrey? He eloped with a woman, had a child, and then abandoned them both. In the end he is allowed to keep all his money, his new, better wife, doesn’t have to tell the town about his misdeeds (unlike Mr. Bulstrode) so suffers no consequences. Oh, but he doesn’t have any other children. WHAT?!
Where is the justice? Molly paid for her half of the misdeed with death and Godfrey gets off with infertility? I kept wondering what the backstory was to the young marriage to merit this extreme difference. But all that is said is, “it was an ugly story of low passion, delusion, and waking from delusion, which needs not to be dragged from the privacy of Godfrey’s bitter memory” (30). We are being told by the narrator that the story is not worth being told; therefore, we are left with nothing but Godfrey’s corrupted viewpoint.
So what is the point? Silas Marner is a highly christianized narrative…THEREFORE…boys will be boys and sew their oats…women are temptresses that draw men into illicit actions. (Drops the mic)