The novel, Silas Marner, by George Eliot tells the story of a lonely man who isolates himself from the rest of the world, and must find love and compassion in an orphaned baby girl, left at his doorstep. Social class conflicts take place throughout the novel, due to its focus on two characters on the opposites of the social spectrum, Godfrey Cass and Silas Marner. Godfrey Cass, the son of the village’s Squire, represents the higher class, while Silas Marner, a poor and lonely weaver, characterizes the lower class. Many other supporting characters, such as Dustan Cass and Dolly Winthrop also help understand how each class thinks. Silas Marner focuses on the hierarchy system in order to understand their behaviors, their mindset of life, and the lifestyles of each side of the social classes.
The reader can monitor the Cass family and Silas Marner to understand behaviors that their respective social classes have. Godfrey and Dunstan Cass tend to act carelessly with their actions, because they have always lived with luxury and have experienced no hardships. For example, Godfrey secretly married a drunken lady named Molly Farren, who embarrassed him so much that he left her due to her opium addiction. Dunstan Cass, a spoilt, irresponsible, drunkard, always hunted for fun, and he even black mailed his brother for money when he said, “I might tell the squire how his handsome son was married to that nice young woman, Molly Farren, and was very unhappy because he couldn’t live with his drunken wife, and I should slip into your place as comfortable as could be” (Eliot 30). Even Godfrey acted selfish when he abandoned his wife as soon as he saw a better woman, and later he even tried to take away Eppie from Silas simply so that he could have his own child. These actions show that the upper class people have a habit of thinking only about their reputations and their pleasure without considering the harm it may do to others. Silas Marner, however, had a greedy personality in the beginning, but only because his village rejected him, and he had no one else. He shows off his caring side when he first meets Eppie as a baby, as he says, “She’d take it all for fun,” he observed to Dolly, “if I didn’t hurt her, and that I can’t do Mrs. Winthrop” (Eliot 150). All his actions and feelings towards Eppie show that Silas Marner has a caring personality. Mrs. Winthrop also has compassionate qualities, as she helps Silas take care of his baby and tries to help him whenever she can, since, “The good wholesome woman could hardly fail to have her mind drawn strongly towards Silas Marner, now that he appeared in the light of a sufferer” (Eliot 99). The actions and behaviors of these peasants show that they have no possessions, so they take pride in their compassion. This shows that the poor low class people have the ability to appreciate what they have, whereas the spoilt higher class people have no boundaries for their incessant desires.
Silas Marner and Godfrey Cass both have different outlooks towards life, because of the events that occur due to their social rank. Since Godfrey has established himself as a respected individual, he cares more about his reputation than anything else. His outlook towards life is that he must always please his father and increase him reputation so that he does not have to live and make his own money. He thinks that he has a wonderful life, but only if he gets what he wants. If he does not obtain what he wants, he goes through great hardships to achieve it. For example, when he wanted a child he got jealous that Silas had a better relation with his child, Eppie, than he did, so he tried to adopt her, not considering that, “â€¦Silas would rather part with his life than with Eppie”(Eliot 195). He simply tried to convince himself that he would get what he wanted since, “the weaver would wish the best to the child he has taken so much trouble with, and would be glad that such good fortune should happen to herâ€¦”(Eliot 195). Silas Marner, however, does not have any possessions or money, so he does not want to lose his most prized possession: his daughter. Silas had two outlooks on life in the book, one in the beginning, which only focused on greed and selfishness, like Godfrey, and another after he meets Eppie. Becoming a father gave him something to care about and made him forget about his wealth, since he only focused on the welfare of his baby. His outlook on life after Eppie became that he would do whatever possible to please his daughter, and he shed all his selfishness, greed, and loneliness all because of Eppie. Therefore, the greed and selfishness that is attained in the higher class causes a negative outlook towards life.
Silas and Godfrey have very different lifestyles because of their economical and social status. Living standards not only include the state of their homes and accessories, but also how well they can live with their family. Godfrey lives in a mansion with his father and his brothers, and does not have to work because his father provides for his food and shelter. He as everything, but he does not have a close relationship with his family, since, “Everyone breakfasted at a different hour in the red houseâ€¦,” (Eliot 83). This shows that the Cass family are not close enough to have breakfast at the same time, since they cannot get along with each other, and the Squire Cass frightens the children given that Godfrey says that, “â€¦ his father’s indulgence had not been kindness”(Eliot 88). Therefore, the Cass family has excellent living standards, but cannot live with each other because of hatred and anger towards each other. Silas, however, lives in poverty because he lost all his money. He has a horrible lifestyle, and works hard to support himself and Eppie. He has a wonderful relationship with Eppie and his neighbors, like Mrs. Winthrop, so much so that Eppie refuses to leave him when Godfrey offers to adopt her. While the previous aspects sometimes contradicted their placement in the social hierarchy, their lifestyles definitely reflect their social rank. However, their social lifestyles do not reflect their living standards, because they have too many or too less material possessions. Therefore, their living standards resemble a part of their qualification for their social class, but their ranking does not explain the amount of love that they have for their family.
Silas Marner teaches the reader that one cannot attain happiness through their possessions, and that family values are much better to have. Silas Marner’s behaviors make him a good person because he cares more about his friends and family than material possessions, since does not have too many belongings. He also has a different outlook to life than Godfrey, because he believes in compassion and love, whereas Godfrey thinks that his world will end if his reputation is ruined. Finally, Silas Marner lives in horrid living conditions because of his low social class and his lack of money, but is closer to his family than Godfrey as he is not distracted by money and pleasure. Silas Marner exposes the author’s spiritual intake on life, and teaches the reader how to succeed and be happy in life.
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