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Silas Marner - Themes

This GCSE English Literature quiz challenges you on themes in George Eliot's Silas Marner. Themes in a work of literature can be very obvious or very subtle. Often the various themes intertwine and comment upon one another. Theme is communicated through the concepts and ideas of the text, connecting setting, character, plot and dialogue. Pay close attention to the related ideas you detect and try to follow the development of a theme over the course of a text. When writing about themes, check whether your final thoughts as you reach the end of the text match those you had at the beginning. Have your ideas changed? If so, try to pinpoint when and where your views on a key theme began to change.

Authors communicate meaning to readers through the themes with which they engage in the text.

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Ideally, issues raised in the text will prompt readers to reconsider their own beliefs or ways of looking at the world. If a text can force you to think and maybe even change your mind, then the author has successfully encouraged you to engage with one or more of its themes. You might notice that you disagree strongly with other readers (or even your teacher), rather than sharing the same views on an issue. This is because your response to a text will be deeply personal, which is inevitable when you bring your own thoughts, beliefs and experiences into consideration of the text.

George Eliot's Silas Marner deals with themes of wealth, isolation, secrets, community, faith, family, and home. These themes are interrelated, each touching upon the lives of various characters in different ways. Most of these themes are easily apparent and often stated outright by the narrator; others reveal themselves through subtext.

Read the questions below and test your knowledge of the themes of Silas Marner by George Eliot.

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  1. Godfrey's life is diminished to the same extent in which Silas's is enriched. Why?
    Godfrey has more than one opportunity to acknowledge Eppie as his own daughter, but only does so when it is too late because he cannot face the loss of Nancy and the regard of his friends, family and acquaintances. He only realises how impoverished his life has been when Eppie has grown up
  2. The novel portrays Eppie as a treasure to replace Silas's lost gold. Which of the following is true?
    Silas is grateful for the return of his money after it has lost its hold over him. He sees the money itself as useful as long as he has the correct attitude to it
  3. What does the novel say about community?
    Silas is harmed when the community of Lantern Yard turns against him and is supported by the community of Raveloe. However, Raveloe is slow to warm to Silas and is instinctively mistrustful until he is made vulnerable by the theft and by his adoption of Eppie. Despite its eventually welcoming embrace, Raveloe is shown to be susceptible to gossip, too
  4. Dolly stamps the letters "I. H. S." on her cakes. What is her explanation for this practice?
    Eliot depicts religious beliefs as being fairly incomprehensible to the ordinary people who hold them. Silas has a better understanding of theology, but has lost his faith. Dolly trusts the letters, which are found in church, without understanding their meaning (IHS is an abbreviation for Jesus Christ)
  5. What is the significance of the hearth in the novel?
    Eppie appears at Silas's hearth. He later refuses to modernise his cooking arrangements because he does not wish to lose this sacred spot. Nancy also imagines her children playing at the hearth
  6. "No one knew where wandering men had their homes or their origin; and how was a man to be explained unless you at least knew somebody who knew his father and mother?" How is this suspicion on the part of the villagers counteracted in the novel?
    Eppie wanders into the life of Silas, one of these suspicious, unexplained men
  7. Raveloe cannot be protected from coming change. Which of the following is true of change in the novel?
    Ultimately, even leaving Lantern Yard in such traumatic circumstances proves to be a great opportunity for positive change in Silas's life. Without openness to change, his life would have become ossified in loneliness and miserliness
  8. In the first part of the novel, what is considered to be lacking in both Silas's cottage and in the Red House, the Squire's home?
    Eppie and Nancy make their homes more pleasant places to be. Eppie, in particular, brings life; this is represented not only by her marriage at the end of the novel, but also by the pets identified as one amongst many positive changes to come to Silas's home
  9. Why do the people of Raveloe mistrust Silas before the theft of his gold?
    The primary reason the villagers mistrust Silas is because he is an incomer to the village. This instinctive mistrust is also apparent when a travelling pedlar is blamed for the theft. Silas's knowledge of herbs also invites suspicion
  10. What replaces the chapel community in Lantern Yard?
    The chapel was close to the jail on Prison Street and has been replaced by a factory. Are the factory workers as imprisoned in their circumstances as Silas had been in his?

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