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Silas Marner - Dialogue

This GCSE English Literature quiz takes a look at dialogue in George Eliot's Silas Marner. The term “dialogue” is used for any direct speech in a literary text, although technically it means a conversation between at least two people. Dialogue is an important element in characterisation. The reader learns about characters not only from the content of their speech, but also through their style of speaking. Many of the characters in Silas Marner are strongly characterised through their dialogue, with several speaking in dialect.

It is important to note specific details such as language choice, use of dialect and pacing, which can be indicated through punctuation to represent interruptions and pauses in a character’s speech. When reading a work of fiction spend some time to consider the following: How is the speech of each character differentiated from others?

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In what way does vocabulary vary between characters? Does a character’s dialogue change over time, or in different situations? Does it make any difference which characters are speaking together?

Dialogue tells you much more than about individual characteristics. Plot often depends on dialogue, especially where speech prompts an event; speech also often conveys information which you might not otherwise know, for example those events which happened before the story begins, or how characters expect to see future events unfold. In Silas Marner this is information which the narrator usually tells the reader directly, so it is worth noting what dialogue is reserved for instead.

One practical method of preparing for a literature exam is to memorise dialogue. Create a list of the most significant examples of dialogue for each character, paying special attention to those that convey their characteristics or occur at a turning point in the text.

The quiz below focusses on knowing who is speaking each of these lines. Consider the significance of these lines before answering the questions. What do they tell the reader about the character who speaks them? Would it be possible to imagine another character speaking the same lines? If not, why not? Also think whether the dialogue also gives us information about the person being addressed, or whether it foreshadows or explains later events.

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  1. Match the dialogue to the correct speaker.

    "You're a silly-shally fellow: you take after your poor mother. She never had a will of her own; a woman has no call for one, if she's got a proper man for her husband"
    The Squire hectors his son, not understanding why he has not asked Nancy to marry him. Although he appears only briefly in the book, his manner of speaking does not portray him as very sympathetic
  2. Match the dialogue to the correct speaker.

    "We've been used to be happy together every day, and I can't think o' no happiness without him"
    Eppie refuses Godfrey's and Nancy's request that she live with them, distancing herself by calling them "sir" and "ma'am" and reinforcing Silas's position in her view as her real father
  3. Match the dialogue to the correct speaker.

    "For if us as knows so little can see a bit o' good and rights, we may be sure as there's a good and a rights bigger nor what we can know — I feel it i' my own inside as it must be so"
    Dolly struggles to find the words to express her religious beliefs. These revolve around humility, the ability to recognise good and evil, and the importance of trust
  4. Match the dialogue to the correct speaker.

    "It's what I think to myself sometimes, as there need nobody run short o' victuals if the land was made the most on, and there was never a morsel but what could find its way to a mouth"
    As an idealised working man of the countryside, Aaron is both compassionate and practical. He does not see why anyone should go hungry when plenty of food could be produced with good management of the land
  5. Match the dialogue to the correct speaker.

    "You never hold trumps, you know — I always do. You've got the beauty, you see, and I've got the luck, so you must keep me by you for your crooked sixpence"
    Ironically, Dunstan's belief in his own good luck reveals itself to be misplaced
  6. Match the dialogue to the correct speaker.

    "I wasn't worth doing wrong for — nothing is in this world"
    Nancy is in many ways Godfrey's moral anchor. He believes that she can make him a better person, but here she reminds him of his own responsibility to do what is right
  7. Match the dialogue to the correct speaker.

    "I've lived with a secret on my mind, but I'll keep it from you no longer"
    Godfrey finally admits to Nancy that he is Eppie's father
  8. Match the dialogue to the correct speaker.

    "There is no just God that governs the earth righteously, but a God of lies, that bears witness against the innocent"
    Silas's religious beliefs lead him to believe that the drawing of lots makes God's will clear. When his community condemns him as guilty of theft he loses his faith
  9. Match the dialogue to the correct speaker.

    "I might come to think I was forsaken again, and lose the feeling that God was good to me"
    The return of his stolen money makes Silas half believe, superstitiously, that he might lose Eppie in exchange
  10. Match the dialogue to the correct speaker.

    "I'm such a good-natured brother, you know"
    Dunstan blackmails Godfrey because he is the only person who knows about Godfrey's secret marriage to a poor alcoholic woman in another village. His speech refers repeatedly to his good nature and concern for his elder brother

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