Examine Eliot's Presentation of Parenthood in Silas Marner

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Examine Eliot's Presentation of Parenthood in Silas Marner

"A child more than all other gifts

That earth can offer to declining man

Brings hope with it and forward looking thoughts." (Title page)

One the title page of the first edition of Silas Marner, George Eliot quotes from Wordsworth's poem Michael. She immediately introduces the significance of parenthood and the powerful emotional effect a child can have on a parent. I feel Eliot uses the parents in Silas Marner to demonstrate the personal rewards that are gained from the efforts of good parenting, and the weak family ties created by indifferent, ineffective parenting. She questions what makes a good parent and also examines the nature versus nurture aspect of parenthood.

I think that Eliot believes in the importance of a female influence in nurturing children and illustrates this in her presentation of the Cass family. Squire Cass is a widower of four children whose house "was without that presence of the wife and mother which is the fountain of wholesome love and fear in parlour and kitchen" (P32). I feel that this metaphor describes the significance Elliot places on the involvement of a woman's devotion in a family. She influences the reader to disapprove of the Squire as a parent since in Raveloe "it was thought a weakness in the Squire that he had kept all his sons at home in idleness" (P32) and uses him as an example of a bad parent, giving examples of his neglect as a father. "The old Squire was an implacable man: he made resolutions in violent anger, but he was not to be removed from them after his anger had subsided" (P82). This aspect of the Squire's character added to his son Godfrey's "habitual irresolution" (P83) and prevented him from confessing to his father. Eliot implies that Godfrey has grown up weak willed and cowardly because of the nature of his father and shows that Godfrey doubts his father's love for him. "He had always had a sense that his father's indulgence had not been kindness, and had had a vague longing for some discipline that would have checked his own errant weakness, and helped his better will" (P88). I think Eliot is demonstrating that the deficiencies of the Squire's children are due to the inadequacies of his parenting. His son Dunstan is very dislikeable. He drinks and gambles, the villagers consider him to be "a spiteful jeering fellow" (P33) and "people shook their heads at [Dunstan's] courses"(P32). Ironically Squire Cass considers himself to have been "too good a father" (P88). Elliot uses personification to describe the Cass household; it is a "home where the hearth had no smiles" (P41). My interpretation of this imagery is of a house void of any warm comforting heart. Elliot uses imagery connected to nature throughout Silas Marner when relating to the development of people and relationships. She writes "the sweet flower of courtesy is not a growth of such homes as the Red House" (P84). This metaphor means to me, that the house would be a much more pleasant place if consideration was encouraged to develop and her use of nature in imagery gives an atmosphere of gentle nurturing and care.
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In contrast to Squire Cass, Mr Lammeter is also a widower who brought up his daughters without a wife "in that way, that they never suffered a pinch of salt to be wasted, and yet everybody in their household had of the best" (P33). Elliot shows the difference in the two households and influences the reader to approve of the Lammeter household. They are not wasteful unlike the Squire, but have the best that they need. Elliot points out the difference in the households, she refers to "the neatness, purity and liberal orderliness of the Lammeter household" (P41). ...

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