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Silas Marner - Setting

This GCSE English Literature quiz takes a look at setting in Silas Marner by George Eliot. At its most basic level, the setting of a text means the location and the time in which the events take place. In addition to the events with which a text is primarily concerned, there will be events occurring in the background to which characters might allude. This wider fictional world is known as context and is also a key component of its setting (fictional context should not, of course, be confused with the author’s real-life context). Atmosphere is another important element of setting, and can change multiple times in a text, just as a text most probably moves between several different settings.

It is important to consider carefully the setting of any text you study. Characters are affected by the world in which they live, fictional though it is.

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For example, authors show the effect of political or social events on characters through their reported thoughts, behaviour and dialogue.

At one level, Silas Marner is not rooted in a very specific time and place. Its fairy-tale elements create an impression of time being transcended. Nevertheless, Eliot also vividly presents a rural village on the verge of the Industrial Revolution, with the many changes that will bring. Why might Eliot have wished to present this moral tale as transcending time while being placed at a point in history where the life it relates is in danger of being forever destroyed? It is interesting to note that “ravel”, the root of the name Raveloe, means both “to tangle” or “to unpick/to unravel”. Does this bear upon the meaning of the text, in your view?

Geographical setting includes country or region, environment, the buildings or landscapes where events occur, and even the weather. Do events occur in a variety of places, or all in the same place? Do any characters travel, or arrive from elsewhere? How does the interaction of characters with their environment create meaning in the text?

One useful task is to compare the time a text is set with when it was written. Do these times differ? Think about the reasons why an author might choose to set a text in the past, present or future. Do such differences change our understanding of the story?

Answer the questions below on setting in George Eliot's Silas Marner.

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  1. Raveloe provides a contrast to which of the following?
    Silas chooses Raveloe for its difference from the town where he suffers his great betrayal
  2. The novel is set in the early years of which century?
    The novel opens with the following words: "In the days when the spinning-wheels hummed busily in the farmhouses..." This vague reference to time is shortly afterwards clarified with the slightly more specific reference to "the early years of this century", which, for George Eliot was of course the nineteenth century
  3. How many years pass over the course of the novel?
    Silas has lived in Raveloe for fifteen years before Eppie's arrival. The second part of the novel takes place sixteen years after her arrival
  4. How does the Stone-pit function in the text?
    The Stone-pits are on the site of an old stone quarry, which presumably provided the stones from which the village itself was built
  5. How is Godfrey's home depicted in the first half of the novel?
    The early death of the Squire's wife leaves the home inhabited solely by men. Eliot describes the home as lacking the "fountain of wholesome love and fear in parlour and kitchen". Nancy is expected to fill this role after marrying Godfrey
  6. Which of the following best describes Raveloe?
    Raveloe is characterised by its friendliness; this friendliness, however, is not easily extended to outsiders such as Silas
  7. "He found himself in front of a bright fire which lit up every corner of the cottage — the bed, the loom, the three chairs, and the table — and showed him that Marner was not there." Which elements of this description portray the cottage as welcoming?
    The bright light entices Dunstan in from the dark night and also provides warmth. The three chairs are interesting because Silas lives alone. Who are the chairs for?
  8. How does Silas's cottage change during Eppie's young life there?
    Sixteen years after Eppie's arrival, the cottage holds several pets as well as more solid and comfortable furniture given by Godfrey
  9. Silas Marner is set in which country?
    Raveloe is a village which "lay in the rich central plain of what we are pleased to call Merry England". This is a rather otherworldly, almost fairy-tale depiction of a village located in the Midlands
  10. Which of the following best describes the novel's setting?
    Life in Raveloe and the surrounding countryside is to a great extent idealised. Pastoral settings concern life in the countryside, especially when favourably contrasted with urban life

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