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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
In the rich, central plains of England lay Raveloe village, curled up in a well-wooded hollow; its sequestered existence made the world outside the village a "region of mystery and vagueness." The occasional visitors from the world beyond, like the peddler, the knife grinder and the linen-weavers, were looked upon as aliens and treated with suspicion. One such object of curiosity was a linen weaver named Silas Marner who had come to establish a linen shop among the nutty hedgerows of Raveloe fifteen years ago. He was a pallid, gaunt man with protruding, myopic eyes. His unsociable behavior made him seem very peculiar to the villagers. Silas was known to have fits, and it was rumored that he possessed some occult powers through which he could cure any ailment. Before coming to Raveloe, Silas lived in Lantern Yard where he was looked upon as a promising young man on account of his ardent faith. The young Silas was a close friend of William Dane, and the two were so inseparable that they were called David and Jonathan. While in Lantern Yard, Silas became engaged to a young servant woman named Sarah, and they were waiting for an increase in their mutual savings before getting married. Silas once had a cataleptic seizure during a prayer meeting. His fellow members considered this as a sign of grace. William alone suggested that Silas' trance appeared to be a visitation of Satan. Silas was pained by his friend's doubts concerning him, but accepted the rebuke without ill feeling.
Shortly after Silas' seizure, the senior deacon was taken seriously ill, and the members of the congregation tended him. During Silas' turn the deacon died, and Silas left to find help. The next morning, he was summoned by the church and accused of theft. The accusation was made on the evidence that his knife was found in the departed deacon's bureau where the bag of money had lain. Silas' dwelling was searched and to his astonishment, the empty bag was found in his room. Silas recalled that he had given the knife to William so that he could cut a strap and that it had not been in his possession for some time. Silas' hope was that William would certify his innocence, but William remained silent. The church members decided to draw lots to ascertain the truth, but unfortunately for Silas, the lots declared him guilty. Deeply agitated, Silas accused William Dane of the theft and left the church, disillusioned with God and humanity. The next day he was informed that Sarah had broken her engagement to him. Soon after, Sarah married William Dane and Silas left the town.
The hallmark of George Eliot's novels is their organic wholeness: the characters, the setting, and the social environment are well integrated. In this first chapter, the author deviates from her typical wholeness; she first establishes the rural ambience and then proceeds to introduce the protagonist. First, Raveloe is established as a village marked by parochialism and mistrust of outsiders. Although the rural backdrop is pleasant, the narrator appears critical of the sloth and prodigality of the big families in the community. The solitary Silas Marner is a contrast to the large families found in Raveloe, and the inhabitants consider him to be a strange figure. His aloofness is both a cause and consequence of his neighbors' wariness. After briefly introducing her protagonist, George Eliot discreetly uses flashbacks to unravel Silas' past and make his present fathomable to the reader. There is an excellent use of ironic contrast in the reference to Silas and William Dane as David and Jonathan. Unlike the Biblical hero Jonathan, who saved David at the hands of Saul, William Dane betrays Silas and brings about his ostracism and disgrace.
There is notable use of imagery and foreshadowing in the chapter. The image of the weavers as "remnants of a disinherited race" is ironic because Silas has been literally "disinherited" by his community. Also, the reference to Silas as a "dead man come to life" is a perfect foreshadowing of his subsequent revival from his present death-like existence through the love of a child.