Curriculum Vital

Guide to Silas Marner
Chapter seven summary and analysis

This page is part of the Education Umbrella Guide to Silas Marner. Free to download, our guide features a summary and analysis of every chapter, analysis of the novel's themes, and an introduction to George Eliot's life and work. 

Questions? Comments? Contact Ross: rgrainger@educationumbrella.com

Summary

Silas enters the Rainbow to tell the villagers that his gold has been robbed.

Having just finished a debate about ghosts (Mr Macey thinks they exist, Mr Dowlas does not), the patrons are at first alarmed to see the 'pale, thin figure' of Silas standing in the doorway. The landlord asks Jem Rodney to help Silas remove his wet coat, but Jem refuses. Silas, upon hearing Jem’s name, angrily accuses him of the robbery. Jem firmly denies it. The landlord asks Silas to calm down and sit by the fire to dry his wet clothes. Silas complies. As the fire warms him, he begins to recount the facts.

At first sceptical, the patrons of the Rainbow soon become convinced that Silas is telling the truth. At the same time, the improbability of the robbery leads them first to the conclusion that the thief is a higher power, 'somebody it was quite in vain to set the constable after.'

After listening to the story, the landlord tells Silas that Jem is clearly not the thief. Silas agrees and apologises to Jem. Mr Macey repeats his belief that the money has been stolen by the devil. In keeping with the earlier discussion about ghosts, the farrier rubbishes this idea. He asks Silas how much money was in the bags. Silas replies, 'Two hundred and seventy-two pounds, twelve and sixpence,' an enormous sum at that time. The farrier replies that the bags would have been light enough for a thief to carry, adding that Silas didn’t notice any signs of a robbery because of his short-sightedness.

The farrier then proposes that 'two of the sensiblest' of the patrons should accompany Silas to the constable’s house. After much debate, the farrier (Mr Dowlas) and the landlord agree to go with Silas.

Analysis

This strangely novel situation of opening his trouble to his Raveloe neighbours, of sitting in the warmth of a hearth not his own, and feeling the presence of faces and voices which were his nearest promise of help, had doubtless its influence on Marner, in spite of his passionate preoccupation with his loss. Our consciousness rarely registers the beginning of a growth within us any more than without us: there have been many circulations of the sap before we detect the smallest sign of the bud.

This is the first time Silas has been in the Rainbow. Although his mind is fixated on his robbed gold, he cannot help but feel a sense of camaraderie with his villagers. The narrator explains that this feeling of connection with his fellow human beings has been stirring in Silas for some time, waiting for the right moment. As the 'sap' of a tree responds to the warmth of spring, so Silas reacts positively to the warmth of the fire and the figurative warmth of his fellow villagers. 

This change in Silas’s character reflects a central theory of the 19th century German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach. In his book The Essence of Christianity, which Eliot translated from German in 1854, Feuerbach writes, ‘my fellow-man is my objective conscience.’

This feeling continues when he is forced admit that Jem is not the robber:

With a movement of compunction as new and strange to him as everything else within the last hour, he started from his chair and went close up to Jem, looking at him as if he wanted to assure himself of the expression in his face.

Forced to reach out to his neighbours, Silas is now capable of feeling guilt (‘compunction’), which gives him the power to apologise to Jem for having accused him. He is so unused to this form of communication, though, that he has to study Jem’s face before he speaks. 

Consider the similarity of the above passages with the following extract from Feuerbach’s The Essence of Christianity:

Only where man suns and warms himself in the proximity of man, arise feeling and imagination. Love, which requires mutuality, is the spring of poetry; and only where man communicates with man, only in speech, a social act, awakes reason.

It is only by reaching out to his fellow man that Silas sees the illogicality of believing Jem to be the robber.