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Silas Marner - Language

This GCSE English Literature quiz takes a look at language in Silas Marner by George Eliot. Silas Marner resembles a fairy tale in many ways. This resemblance is often most apparent in its language. Eliot’s language choices often emphasise semi-magical aspects to the story, especially in its opening and also around Eppie’s appearance on Silas's hearth. Language is also used here to create an air of timelessness in a way that implies that the lessons of this tale can be suspended from particular times and locations in order to be applied more universally. Dialogue, rather than description, seems to root the tale into its particular setting in Raveloe. Pay close attention, therefore, to distinctions between the language the narrator uses and that employed by the characters.

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Analysing language in a text

While layout, font and any illustrations, as well as any other visual elements, certainly have an effect on our understanding and interpretation of a text, language is the primary medium through which its meaning is conveyed. Without language, written texts, by definition, could not exist.

Authors choose the language that they use with great care. Each word has its literal meaning; beyond that lies a weight of symbolic meanings and other associations. Literary effects are conveyed through the use of imagery, such as metaphor, simile and personification. All of these effects are accomplished through words alone. An author’s skilful use of language creates dialogue, setting and characterisation.

Paying close attention to language choices in a text is never a waste of time; your effort will be rewarded with deeper understanding. Linger over words in order to go beyond the surface meaning. Ask yourself what the language might be suggesting subliminally. Remember that the author has put great care into choosing the language and that you should also consider it with care. This practice will help you to decipher the text’s deeper meanings.

Answer the questions on George Eliot's Silas Marner below to develop your understanding of the way language choices affect our interpretation of a text.

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  1. "There might be seen in districts far away among the lanes, or deep in the bosom of the hills, certain pallid undersized men, who, by the side of the brawny country-folk, looked like the remnants of a disinherited race." What impression does this description create of the wandering weavers?
    The weavers are out of place in the rural environment, alien and distrusted by honest country people
  2. "The second day he took refuge from benumbing unbelief, by getting into his loom and working away as usual." What does Silas's work represent to him?
    When his beliefs are smashed by the injustice of his treatment by the community of worshippers in Lantern Yard, Silas finds meaning in his craft
  3. "So he stepped forward into darkness." What meaning is conveyed by the use of the word "darkness"?
    Eliot leaves the reader wondering, along with the inhabitants of Raveloe, what happened to Dunstan the day he tried to sell Godfrey's horse
  4. "In that moment the mother's love pleaded for painful consciousness rather than oblivion — pleaded to be left in aching weariness, rather than to have the encircling arms benumbed so that they could not feel the dear burden." Which pairs of words are set in opposition here?
    Molly's addiction leads her to choose oblivion against the urging of her love for her child. Consciousness is painful and means that she is aware of the burden she carries and of her deep weariness
  5. "The fading grey light fell dimly on the walls decorated with guns, whips, and foxes' brushes, on coats and hats flung on the chairs, on tankards sending forth a scent of flat ale, and on a half-choked fire, with pipes propped up in the chimney-corners." What impression is given by the language in these lines?
    Eliot associates this lack of care with the Red House's lack of feminine influence
  6. Regarding the answer to the previous question, which language choices create this impression?
    No one cares to pour away unfinished ale, ensure that coats and hats are hung up carefully, or tend to the fire
  7. "That bright living thing must be caught; and in an instant the child had slipped on all fours, and held out one little hand to catch the gleam." What is the significance of the "gleam" Eppie tries to catch?
    Eppie saves her own life by following the gleam out of the snow to the warmth of Silas's hearth
  8. "The garden was fenced with stones on two sides, but in front there was an open fence, through which the flowers shone with answering gladness, as the four united people came within sight of them." What is the significance of the word "answering"?
    Although the flowers clearly give pleasure, here their role is to reflect the much greater happiness of human relationship
  9. "We eat o' the same bit, and drink o' the same cup, and think o' the same things from one day's end to another." Which of the following is NOT true of Silas's portrayal of his relationship with Eppie?
    Silas objects that if Eppie were to go to live with Godfrey and Nancy, the pair would be cut in two
  10. Nancy Lammeter's opinions and habits are compared to grass which has taken root and grown in her mind, without being noticed. While the comparison is meant to demonstrate how little thought has gone into nurturing the opinions and how tenacious these habits might be, what else is implied?
    Like grass, Nancy's opinions and habits can be uprooted. Godfrey does not recognise this possibility in his wife

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