The Importance of Belonging in 'Silas Marner'
The Importance of the Theme of Belonging in Silas Marner
The theme of belonging is featured frequently, throughout the book, sometimes in more tenuous ways than others. There are many different things in Silas Marner that someone or something can belong to: both abstract and concrete. For example Godfrey belongs to the Cass family which, in turn, belongs to the community of the village. However before one can begin to answer the question of how important belonging is in such situations, it is important to examine how a character or thing can belong to the novel and the outcome of certain belongings along with statements made in the narrative voice by Elliot expressing her opinion on it. Under this topic, the three most relevant sub-topics are belonging to a community and place (these are both heavily linked so can be examined together), belonging to a family or close relationship and also the belonging of possessions.
The most blatant example of belonging affecting a character is Silas’s changes of attitude to life when he is part of Lantern Yard and Raveloe in different ways. Elliot makes it quite clear when Silas truly belongs to a place and when he doesn’t. She shows that Silas is truly part of Lantern Yard by the fact he has close friends (including a girl-friend and William Dane), grew up there, has trust from the other villagers and is part of what makes the village as it is so far as tradition, superstition, religion and rituals. Because of this he has a sufficiently happy life which seems too simplistic to cause him any trouble. However, when he is falsely accused of a theft, he is expelled from the village. As a result of this abrupt termination of his belonging to Lantern Yard, everything he had established there (such as friends and work) falls to pieces leaving him devastated and without direction in life showing great evidence in favour of the importance of this kind of belonging. ‘Poor Marner went out with despair in his soul’ (page 11)
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When he finds Raveloe and resettles there he belongs to the village in the sense of location and having a role in its economic activity as a weaver but is not truly part of the social community and because he did not grow up there he is branded as an untrustworthy outsider by the others. He develops a compulsive habit of making money from weaving and then counting it at night. Elliot says that this makes him happy but not without some irony as she is suggesting that this is not true happiness. This incompleteness in his life can be heavily blamed on the absence of any community or strong friendship in his life which is one of the few things that someone of the working class could take advantage of in their spare time and looking at life as a balance of work and play it makes Silas a half-life. Another reason why belonging to a community is so important, is the mutual benefit constituted by the ability to rely on others for things that one cannot handle on one’s own and the help one can give to others by using skills or guidance that the recipient could not handle by themselves. For example, when Silas wants to get his stolen money back he turns to the men of the Rainbow Inn and because he starts to fit in with the villagers they help him with his case. 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’ (page 48)
Out of all the new relationships that he starts, his paternal relationship with Eppie, after he takes her in, is by far the strongest and has the largest impact on his personality and attitude to life and God. It is not surprising that Silas defends his right to provide for Eppie when Godfrey claims that is would be better for her if him and Nancy took care of her. This question of who she belongs to is very important in the novel as it determines the future of not only Eppie but Godfrey and Nancy, and Silas (who all claim her), and indirectly affects others such as Squire Cass who might, for example, suspect Godfrey’s old secret marriage through his taking in Eppie. In chapter 19 of the book this issue comes to a conclusion when Godfrey and Silas debate on who has the right to look after Eppie and who would make her life happier. On reading this Elliot makes it clear that belonging to a family consists of far more than of being the same flesh and blood; it is being part of the same habits, lifestyle, religious practice and social class as well as having love for and from them and history with them. Eppie’s decision also plays a large part in this as what one does belong to is largely decided by what one wants to belong to and fortunately for Silas, she takes Elliot‘s viewpoint on the situation. The debate between Godfrey and Silas is easily won by the latter as Silas argues that the attachment created by the bonds made through years of nurture and familiarity give a much stronger claim on Eppie than sharing the same blood and certain features. Elliot is also against Godfrey’s argument saying that the situation is his fault and speaks against him in the narrative voice:‘This frustration of a purpose towards which he had set out under the exalted consciousness that he was about to compensate in some degree for the greatest demerit of his life, made him feel the air of the room stifling.’ (page 150). In this chapter, at least, it is clear that the theme of belonging to a family is dominant and essential to the storyline not only because it is covered so broadly but also because the strength of Eppie’s belonging to Silas stops what would have been a radical change in the course of events.
By attempting to take responsibility of Eppie, Godfrey is risking losing his place in the Cass family through exposing himself as the biological father and getting disowned as a result. There can be parallels drawn between him wanting to belong as family to Squire Cass and wanting to belong as family to Eppie but a major difference: with Eppie, Godfrey genuinely wishes to be part of her life and care for her but, with Squire Cass, he simply is anxious to stay part of the inheritance. This goes to show that although in many instances belonging can constitute deep bonds, moods and lifestyles, sometimes it can simply mean a little extra cash or other material things which can and often does affect weak characters in the book.
The most simplistic and, by the friendless and Eppieless Silas in particular, overrated form of belonging is of material possessions. To the contrary of the majority of other types of belonging in the book, it is obvious, mostly by outcomes of material obsessions, that this type of belonging does not matter. This is almost undeniable as in every case where someone gains riches or maintains them it does not directly ameliorate any aspect of their situation and in many scenarios it even makes things worse for them. For example, Silas’s obsession with collecting gold turns out to be ultimately meaningless as he has no necessity or inclination to spend it and it gives him no true sense of fulfilment or happiness. Another proof of this is Eppie’s indifference to Godfrey’s property and fortune in terms of who she
chooses to look after her.
In all the examples I have covered, with the significant exception of the belonging of material possessions, it seems that belonging has a great bearing on the outcome of many situations, which is often made clear through changes of belonging and their effects such as Silas‘s depression and rejection of religion after he is refused the right to belong to Lantern Yard any longer. One can also make hypothetical situations based on the book where things don’t belong to what they should do and in most cases the outcomes will be drastically changed. For example, had Eppie chosen to live with Godfrey and Nancy, Godfrey would be punished for his secret marriage to Molly, Silas would have been devastated and Eppie’s character and habits would change. Because almost every aspect of belonging affects the novel and in some cases in great magnitude, I come to a sure conclusion that the theme in general is of very high importance although not quite absolutely essential.