Curriculum Vital

The Education Umbrella Guide to Silas Marner
Chapter twenty-one 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

The day after Godfrey’s proposition to Eppie and Silas, Silas decides that he and Eppie will go to Lantern Yard. Now that they have the money, Silas would like to return, in the hope that his name has been cleared. Eppie is very excited about the journey.

After 30 years, the town is much changed. Silas has difficulty locating Lantern Yard. Eventually, he and Eppie reach the place where the Yard ought to be. Now, though, there is no trace of it. The area is dark, dingy and unpleasant. Nobody has heard of the Yard or of Mr Paston, the minister.

“I’ve no home but this now,” Silas tells Dolly Winthrop on the night of his return to Raveloe. He adds that he is sad that he will forever be “in the dark” about the drawing of lots that condemned him to exile. Dolly replies that it is the will of God; that although he doesn’t know why it was just, it does not mean that there is no justice. Silas concludes by saying that since Eppie came into his life he has had light enough to have faith; and since Eppie promised never to leave him, his faith will always be strong.

Analysis

The old place swept away

“The old place is all swep’ away,” Silas said to Dolly Winthrop on the night of his return—“the little graveyard and everything.”

This sense of rebirth, of old ideas fading and disappearing, is an important theme in Eliot’s fiction.

Eliot grew up in a time of extraordinary scientific and technological advancement. Scientists and intellectuals began questioning long-held beliefs and institutions. For example, in 1860, the year she began writing Silas Marner, Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species, the book that launched the theory of evolution by means of natural selection. This theory seemed to disprove the idea that God created man. 

Eliot was pleased to play a role in this intellectual renaissance. By translating the major works of Spinoza, Strauss and Feurebach, she chipped away at what she regarded as the 'little graveyard' of Christian dogma. Once it had been 'swep’ away', many atheists believed, new levels of knowledge and enlightenment would emerge. And yet, as we have seen, Eliot did not wholly disown the significance of Christianity. Far from it: she continued to attend church services. 

Through Silas's relationship with the sect of Lantern Yard, Eliot may have been attempting to criticise certain branches of Christianity, those that she regarded as closed to criticism, inquiry and science. She touches on this idea by having Silas find Lantern Yard from its proximity to the prison. Eppie describes the area as 'a dark ugly place', and Silas remarks that it smells bad. And this 'ugly', closed world is, as we know, full of corruption and injustice. The church of Raveloe, by contrast, is bright, welcoming, and thriving. It is in such a church that Eliot experienced what she called 'the delightful feelings of fellowship'. 

Light and dark

Silas describes his attempt to understand his old world as a journey from darkness into light. He tells Mrs Winthrop that the mystery of the drawing of lots is 'dark' to him, and that it will likely 'be dark to the last.' Mrs Winthrop agrees, saying that some things will always remain 'dark', i.e., mysterious, as it's 'the will o' Them above', but there are some things she has 'never felt i' the dark about'. She believes there is a eternal justice, 'a rights', even though the workings of it are 'dark' to her and Silas.

Using light as a metaphor in this way is common in the Gospel of John, notably the first nine verses of chapter one: 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 

The same was in the beginning with God. 

All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. 

In him was life; and the life was the light of men. 

And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.

The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. 

He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.

That was the true Light, which ligeth every man that cometh into the world.

That 'Light' is Jesus, who, later in the Gosepl of John, says, 'I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.'

As discussed previously, Eppie, with her golden hair, is the light of Silas's life.