Silas Marner, A Tale of Two Cities.
Essay topic: Silas Marner and masculinity
1. – Introduction.
This essay is about the construction and representation of Silas’s masculinity (including some questions proposed in the essay topics on the virtual campus that I found interesting). I saw things that can make him appear more like a woman but it is not necessary or required to understand this matter in this way; I wanted to find his good-will not as a weakness or a woman issue but as strong way of showing tenderness, because I think there is nothing stronger that absolute tenderness and nothing more tender that true strength and I see Silas as a very strong person – calm but strong.
The main themes here are his isolation, the gender issue, and finally how viable or non-viable his manhood is. In the conclusion I have included some aspects more related to Silas’s life.
2. – Silas’s isolation.
About his family, it is only mentioned in the book that he had a mother and a little sister, both of them named Hepziba, but his sister was called Eppie, which is why he chooses this name for his adoptive daughter.
His period of isolation starts in Raveloe when he sends their neighbours away with a growing irritation (It started when he helped Sally Oats and after that he became someone like the official herbal doctor of the neighbourhood). From this moment on he spends his days working sixteen hours a day and contemplating his gold every night. He is like a hermit only concentrated on earning money.
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It wasn’t always like this. At first when he lived in Lantern Yard he was a sociable man who interacted with society, he lived a normal life, and was engaged to marry a woman named Sarah. He also had a friend, William Dane, and then both of them betrayed him. But at the moment he is an entity separated from the community, – self-sufficient.
3. – Silas in gender terms.
What’s wrong with Silas before the loss of his gold?
This point has a connection with Silas’s isolation as discussed in the previous section. He is considered an outcast by the community: at first he is described like a “spider” or a “spinning-insect”. This has no relationship with the issue of masculinity but rather with the issue of humanity: through this description he is portrayed more as an insect than as a man, – this is a way of dehumanizing him. When he loses his gold he is obligated to go and communicate it to the authorities. At first, when he arrived, people thought he was a ghost, is important to mention that Silas’s appearance is a bit strange, he shows a physical deterioration, he has signs of aging and illness, and he is described as an old man. And as I commented previously, he was an isolated hermit obsessed with his gold, admiring it every night, and his world is reduced to his work and his coins. This is the problematic that is established before the loss of his gold.
– Why not let him weave and enjoy his money until he’s too old to keep on weaving?
– Why draw this out for so long?
In my opinion, the idea I get from the book is that Silas earned more money on Raveloe than in Lantern Yard (where he has to pay some money to the church) and he saw this fact, after which began his obsession and he lived like this for sixteen years. And he could have lived on this way until his death but when Eppie came to his home it brought about a change in his whole life.
I think he draws it out because work and money becomes the centre of his life; he lives only for work and to admire his gold.
4. – Silas’s masculinity in a viable way.
– Is this one kind of masculinity or masculinity in general?
I think this is one kind of masculinity because not all men have a situation like Silas’s. Other male characters like the Cass brothers have a masculine role and are seen more like a men than Silas is.
I see this as a viable way because I believe that Silas is completely masculine even if there are things that show him with a lack of manhood.
I’ll start with the “negative” points against his masculinity. Starting with his occupation, it was established that spinning and weaving had a gender division and that it was a female task, in this point, I don’t think that this job defines his masculinity, – he is a man and here the only important thing is that he has an occupation and he is working to support himself.
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In addition, Silas’s behaviour is interesting on a mental level. I see his capacity for self-control a masculine skill too; it is a characteristic of a great man. For example, when William and Sarah betrayed him, he knew it and acted quietly and did nothing; only go on with his life. Another way of showing self-control is in his isolation, and his high degree of rationality. He has been injured, accused of robbery, abandoned by his fiancée, rejected by the community only because he did not want to be an ONG and after that he has the rationality to make a decision. After that it is normal that he wishes to be alone working and earning money.
And finally, even if he is portrayed as an insect or a weak man, in an attempt to diminish his masculinity the capacity that he finds for being a father, a mother and a protector of little Eppie is highly admirable without question. By having enough knowledge for self-sufficiency, to me he is a secure man who knows what he wants and simply acquires and achieves it. In addition I’d like to say that making his home more comfortable for the child, decorating it, – a “nest” for her-, is the sweetness way in which a man can show how capable of being tender is. Preparing his home for Eppie’s needs is something to be expected from a very masculine man. In his own way, he did what every man must do: work, support a household, have a family and protect his family (according to this nineteenth-century period, – nowadays it is different, as women can do this alone too). And he did it; he is totally a man.
5. – Conclusion.
We have seen Silas’s journey, – not a physical journey, but throughout his life. At first he has a normal life, he later becomes an outcast obsessed with gold and after Eppie’s arrival he undergoes a kind of social rehabilitation into an ordinary member of the community. After meeting the child he completely changes his role inside the neighbourhood, every place or home he visits for work he must sit and talk with people about the child. Through her his life changes and he becomes another man. We see his domestic, social and paternal side and how he achieves the role of masculinity in the nineteenth century; not exactly as it was imposed, but by in his own way.
Through the adoption of the child we see Silas accomplishing both – a male and female role, because he is completely devoted to the little girl, and how he passes from a completely isolated life to finding meaning in all the things around him. In Eppie he finds a reason to live, a family that was denied him (his mother and little sister died, and we do not know about his father), the comfort of being love sincerely by someone, of being needed, and of being a father, and there is no moment, in my opinion, where his masculinity could be misunderstood. We can also see, through the adoption the morality and responsibility that Silas is prepared to assume fatherhood, which is too a masculine characteristic, it is necessary to emphasize that the duties that Silas accepts are those that Godfrey Cass, Eppie’s biological father has no morality or responsibility to assume. Throughout the book there is no moment when I feel Silas is not achieving the role of a man. I only felt admiration even if didn’t have obvious masculine characteristics such as physical appearance of a strong and wealth man like Godfrey Cass. Even when he grows old he still has this powerful appearance that Silas, in contrast does not. Godfrey does not have to work because he was inherited from his father and Silas worked as an independent man. This was a prototype of industrial manhood and a new ideal for men.
To finish, another point that I found interesting is that Silas didn’t want to achieve the ideals of the perfect man according to society but he ended up doing so, though his virtuous nature, his generous heart, his courage. By adopting the child he was not only taking on a responsibility but he was taking on the responsibility of another man.
- Silas Marner, A Tale of Two Cities. George Eliot.
- Silas Marner in Wikipedia the free encyclopaedia.
- Silas Marner study guide and literature.
- Virtual Campus.
- Class hand-outs.
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