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It has been said that George Eliot's novels are the first examples in English of the novel in its mature form; in them the novel as a form of literature structurally comes of age. George Eliot deeply contemplated the formal aspects of her writing. The novel to her was not chain of events loosely connected together through the acts of the protagonist. Her novels are built around an idea or theme, and all events are so logically connected that the end is implicit in the beginning. Seen in this light, Silas Marner seems to be a near perfect specimen of Eliot's style of fiction. In this novel, she seeks to portray the healing influence of "pure, natural human relationships." The plot, the setting, the characters are all woven around this theme.
The novel incorporates two plots, which are dexterously interwoven in a span of thirty years. The tale is essentially an ingenious study of contrasts; the two plots revolve around the two divergent characters. Silas is the center of one plot, and Godfrey is the center of the other. The first two chapters describe the character of Silas Marner. He is first seen through the eyes of Raveloe and then through a flashback where the author goes back fifteen years. The unraveling of Silas' past gives the reader a better understanding of his character and his lonely existence.
The third chapter presents Godfrey, the protagonist of the second plot. After establishing the pivotal characters, the author contrives a couple of events, which unobtrusively connect the fates of the two protagonists. The events include Dunstan's theft, followed shortly by Molly's death, and Eppie's arrival at Silas Marner's hearth. These occurrences have direct repercussions on the lives of both Silas and Godfrey; a cause and effect syndrome arises from them. They initially plummet Silas into more profound despair and then re-orient his lackluster life; they relieve Godfrey from the menace of disclosure and leave him free to marry Nancy. It must be noted that the characters and circumstances prepare the reader for what may seem chance occurrences. Silas' loving nature, the way he adores his gold, his sentiments for the broken pot, and his shy overtures to Aaron all prepare us for his adoption of Eppie and consequent transformation. On the other hand, Godfrey's anxiety to marry Nancy makes his failure to claim his daughter credible. For some time after these events, life for both the protagonists is smooth.
Although they are contrasting characters, there are a great deal of parallels between the lives of Godfrey and Silas. Silas is betrayed by William Dane, and Godfrey is betrayed by Dunstan; both are threatened by disgrace. Godfrey has two wives, while Silas has two treasures; in both cases the first leads to ruin and the second to redemption. Dunstan's theft and Eppie's arrival connect Godfrey with Silas. Silas' gold is replaced by Godfrey's "blessing." Silas' adoption of Eppie is also a blessing to Godfrey, for it frees him to marry Nancy.
George Eliot wrote to Hutton, a letter in which she described the novel: "It is the habit of my imagination to strive after as full a vision of the medium in which a character moves as the character itself." From this remark it is clear that Eliot places great stress on community life, for she felt that there is an inter-penetration between the community and the individual lives that compose it.
Throughout the novel, the rustic chorus makes illuminating remarks about Godfrey and Silas. The community befriends Silas after the robbery, and Eppie forms a further vital link between Silas and the community. The community provides the medium in which the characters move and, to an extent, mold their attitudes and influence the course of action.