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Silas Marner - Character

This GCSE English Literature quiz takes a look at character in Silas Marner by George Eliot.

George Eliot’s novel, Silas Marner, is populated by a handful of key characters and an entire village of minor characters. The main characters are Silas, the weaver, land-owners Godfrey and Dunstan Cass, Nancy Lammeter, Eppie, Dolly and Aaron Winthrop. Other characters appear only briefly, but are highly significant to the plot. These include Eppie’s mother, Molly Farren, Squire Cass, and William Dane, Silas’s best friend before his relocation to Raveloe. Local characters include the doctor, farrier and inn-keeper, among others.

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Silas Marner, bewildered by his unexpected ill-treatment by his non-conformist religious community, uproots himself from town and moves to Raveloe. There his solitary habits prevent the neighbours from becoming close to him until further misfortune and the seemingly-miraculous arrival of Eppie inspire their natural kindness. Unlearning his mistrust of others, Silas moves from his life of solitude to become fully part of village life.

Paying attention to speech and action, in addition to narratorial description, helps the reader to develop an understanding of character. In Silas Marner, the omniscient third-person narrator often tells the reader exactly what to think of a character and these observations tend to align with that character’s speech and action. We are told directly how characters feel, what they think and what they plan to do. In many ways this technique makes many of the characters less knowable and more capable of being representative types. Does Eppie merely represent a type, the innocent and dutiful daughter, in the same way that Squire Cass is a typical gruff local landowner? Is Dolly just a recognisable kindly village gossip? These qualities in the novel lend it the air of a fairy tale, marking it at the same time as a didactic tale which aims above all to teach an important moral lesson.

Answer the questions below to see how well you understand the characters in Silas Marner.

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  1. Which of the following best describes Dolly?
    Dolly's insistence on providing help and advice to Silas proves essential in helping him to keep and raise Eppie. The warmth of her character eventually encourages Silas to be open about his painful past
  2. "Silas was still looking at his friend. Suddenly a deep flush came over his face, and he was about to speak impetuously, when he seemed checked again by some inward shock, that sent the flush back and made him tremble." What is the reason for Silas's blush here?
    Silas is shocked by his friend's betrayal. This shock contributes strongly to his loss of faith in human fellowship
  3. When Silas warns Eppie that she will make herself "beholden" to Aaron by allowing him to create a garden, she responds by disagreeing, saying that "he likes it". What does this tell us of Eppie's character?
    Eppie has been raised with such love that it is entirely natural to her to be as beloved by Aaron as she is by her father
  4. Which of the following does NOT describe Aaron?
    Aaron represents the idealised honest country labourer
  5. "No! he would rather trust to casualties than to his own resolve — rather go on sitting at the feast and sipping the wine he loved, though with the sword hanging over him and terror in his heart, than rush away into the cold darkness where there was no pleasure left." What do these lines reveal of Godfrey's character?
    Godfrey wishes to do well and to do what is right, but is also afraid of unpleasant consequences. He trusts to chance to somehow rectify the situation in which his choices have landed him
  6. Why does Silas apologise so quickly after accusing Jem Rodney of stealing his gold?
    Silas is an honest man and is horrified that he has fallen so easily into the same behaviour that caused him to lose everything as a young man
  7. Which of the following best describes Dunstan's character?
    Dunstan appears to have no redeeming characteristics
  8. "'O, father,' said Eppie, 'what a pretty home ours is! I think nobody could be happier than we are.'" What does the final line of the novel tell us of Eppie's priorities?
    Silas's simple and overpowering love for the orphaned child helps her to develop into an adult who finds joy in a simple home and in those who live there
  9. "It was impossible to have lived with her fifteen years and not be aware that an unselfish clinging to the right, and a sincerity clear as the flower-born dew, were her main characteristics." What does this statement tell the reader about Godfrey's view of Nancy?
    Godfrey is prevented from confessing his relationship to Eppie by his understanding of Nancy's very clear moral outlook and the straightforward relationship between her morals and her behaviour. She later surprises him by condemning him not for his first marriage, but for not confessing sooner in order to adopt Eppie
  10. When Eppie refuses the offer to live with Godfrey and Nancy, she explains that she does not wish to be a lady. What does her refusal demonstrate about her character?
    Eppie's refusal of the offer shows that she is determined and confident enough to speak honestly to those who occupy a greater social position than her own. Her apparent lack of interest in the wealthy lifestyle offered demonstrates her happiness with a humble life

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