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The third chapter introduces us to Squire Cass, "the greatest man in Raveloe," and his sons, Godfrey and Dunstan. The Squire is a widower, and, deprived of the presence of a woman, his home is in great disorder and his sons have turned out rather ill behaved. Dunstan, his second son, is a "spiteful, jeering fellow," to whom the misfortune of others is a matter of great delight. The eldest son Godfrey is a fine, good-natured young man, but lately it seems to the villagers that he is following in his younger brother's footsteps, and if this goes on, he will lose his chances of marrying Miss Nancy Lammeter.
On a late November afternoon in the fifteenth year of Silas Marner's life in Raveloe, Godfrey has a heated argument with his brother Dunstan. Godfrey has given him some rent money that he had collected from his father's tenant, and now their father is demanding it. Dunstan refuses to return the sum and instead begins blackmailing Godfrey. Dunstan has the knowledge of Godfrey's clandestine marriage to Molly Farren, a woman of ill repute. Dunstan threatens Godfrey that he will make his well-guarded secret known to their father and thereby bring down the Squire's wrath on him; besides, this disclosure would also mar his chances with Nancy Lammeter. Godfrey is deeply frustrated by his brother's diabolic shrewdness and agrees to let Dunstan sell his favorite horse, Wildfire, to remunerate the money.
The author employs a good deal of irony and tongue-in-cheek humor throughout this chapter. For instance, Squire Cass is regarded as the "greatest man in Raveloe," because he has a tenant or two, and the Osgoods are held to be of "timeless origin," because the villagers cannot recall a time when there were no Osgoods! The naiveté of the villagers seems incredible to the reader, but the author makes it clear that their intellectual confinement is a consequence of their isolation from the world outside. Industrialization has not affected Raveloe, the peasants are well provided for, and small squires and yeomen are not on the road to ruin yet. An event like the Napoleonic war and its aftermath can pass without making more than a ripple on the surface of Raveloe, except for those dealing in wheat.
The author presents a contrast between the disorganized and chaotic state of affairs in Squire Cass' Red House with the ordered and economical way of Nancy Lammeter's house. The disorder in the Red House is reflective of the lives of its inhabitants. The atmosphere of gloom is magnified by the despondency of Godfrey. His marriage to Molly Farren, a lower class young woman, has failed to offer him a home and happiness; he dreams of making Nancy his wife and having a lovely home, unlike his father's residence. The heated debate between Godfrey and Dunstan reveals the news of Godfrey's marriage and also offers an insight into both of their characters. Godfrey emerges as a good- intentioned man, marred by his "natural irresolution and moral cowardice." The author appears to be a bit sympathetic towards him because his secret marriage is partly due to a trap laid by Dunstan. Godfrey never crosses the border between weak vice and sheer wickedness. He serves as a foil (contrast) to Dunstan, who is a vain, glorious fellow and lacks any redeeming virtue. Dunstan's blackmail of his brother is particularly despicable.
Instances of foreshadowing can be observed in Dunstan's jeering advice to Godfrey to creep back into Nancy's favor for "it'ud be saving time if Molly should happen to take a drop too much of laudanum some day and make a widower of you." Molly does indeed make a widower of Godfrey in the near future. Godfrey's concern with financial affairs also foreshadows the importance of money to the plot of the entire novel. Godfrey states that Molly has been threatening to disclose their marriage to the Squire. Then he complains to Dunstan, "You drain me of money till I've nothing to pacify her with, and she'll do as she threatens some day."Eliot's use of imagery is marvelous in this chapter and throughout the novel. Godfrey's predicament would make him like an "uprooted tree" if the Squire disowns him. Godfrey is also uprooted because marriage to Molly Farren keeps him from "making roots" and settling down with Nancy. Godfrey wishes that he had held on to the strong silken rope (signifying firmness) by which Nancy would have led him to green banks' (signifying peace, happiness, and stability), but his unsteadiness and his home environment have dragged him into mud and slime (signifying his disgraceful situation with Molly).