Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version
The characters of George Eliot's novels are real human beings full of desires, peculiarities, and frailties. It is not the appearance of the characters that concern her; her focus is on the inner human being. She probes the psyche of the character and presents, with great intensity, the internal anguish of a person caught in the throes of a mental dilemma. Her characters are not static; they keep evolving through circumstances and their social environments.
Silas Marner, the protagonist of the novel, is a lonely old bachelor with a slight build and protruding, myopic eyes. By trade he is a weaver; more importantly, he is an ordinary man leading an ordinary life. During the novel, Silas proves that he is a loving, trustful man who loves tenderly and trusts in unseen goodness. These qualities remain constant in him, in spite of the evolution in his character. Betrayal at the hands of his friend and unmerited disgrace has made him shrink temporarily from human company. But the seed of love in him is not dead; during the novel it will return in full bloom.
At every stage in his life, Silas is very dependent on something outside of himself -- his work, his religion, his gold, or his daughter. At each stage of development, he has needed a prop to help him wade through the vicissitudes of life. Silas turns to his work when he is falsely accused by the Lantern Yard community and later when he discovers the theft. Another striking feature of Silas is his belief in an omnipotent power that has sent Eppie to him.
Silas is meek by nature. He tells Jem Rodney to return his gold and promises him that he will not take any action against him. He is lenient with Eppie; he can't even bring himself to spank her when she is up to mischief. But for all his meekness, he is not lacking in strength. He boldly speaks out when he sees injustice, as seen in his outburst in Lantern Yard and his angry reproaches to Godfrey. Silas also possesses an immense capacity to love. He takes the orphan child in and never questions whether he will keep her and love her. When Godfrey tries to reclaim Eppie later in life, Silas loves her enough to let her go if she so chooses. Even his miserliness is a manifestation of his need for love, for hoarding gold fills the void of love in his life.
Although poor and uneducated, Silas has a finer nature than any other character in the novel including the gentry. His religion is also superior to that of the Raveloe villagers. Silas believes from his heart and in spite of doubts along the way; his faith is not based on unquestioned doctrines.
Godfrey is one of those "tall, powerful men, seen chiefly on horse back," and his charm is that of a healthy and good-tempered young animal. He is a well-intentioned man, ruined by "irresolution and moral cowardice." He is aware of the right path, but, because it conflicts with his interests, he fears to follow it. He knows that he should accept his miserable wife and their child, but he remains silent. Godfrey never crosses the line between vice and downright wickedness. When she gets pregnant, he marries Molly Farren and provides for her. But he is exasperated over the marriage because it stands between him and Nancy. He prays that something will happen to release him from the imprisonment to Molly. When Silas makes his shocking announcement about a woman dying, "there was one terror in his mind at that moment: it was that the woman might not be dead. That was an evil terror. An ugly inmate to have found a nestling-place in Godfrey's kindly disposition." He felt a sense of relief at his wife's death and appeased his conscience by a succession of generosities to Silas, to be enjoyed by the weaver and his child. In her portrayal of Godfrey, it is obvious that Eliot is very critical of his lack of strong morals.
Sixteen years do not basically change Godfrey's character. He is still not ready to confess his past. He wants to adopt Eppie, but can't tell Nancy the truth of his fatherhood. Even when he confesses, his moral outlook is restricted. He is taken aback by the objections of Silas and Eppie to his proposed adoption, and thinks that Marner is being unreasonable and selfish. He fails to understand the depth of love between the two and the horror with which Eppie must regard him. Silas' reproaches bring Godfrey to realization. Godfrey is willing to do his duty even if it runs counter to his wishes. As a result he decides to help Eppie and Aaron even though he doesn't fancy the idea of his daughter marrying a workman. Ultimately Godfrey is redeemed by Nancy's love, which is the "sap of affection" in his life.