Silas Marner - Understanding the Text

This GCSE English Literature quiz takes a look at understanding the text in Silas Marner by George Eliot. It is not always easy to understand a text. After all, if authors had a simple message to convey, it would not take them hundreds of pages and thousands of words in which to do so! Difficulty can be compounded when you are reading a text written a long time ago, as in the case of Silas Marner. The English language changes quickly and sometimes it takes a bit of practise to get used to how authors wrote in the past.

Authors convey meaning through using a variety of methods. They very rarely state what they mean directly. Instead, character, setting, plot, theme and dialogue offer authors a means to communicate with the reader.

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Pay close attention to each of these elements and try to understand the text as you read. Sometimes you might realise that certain sections will benefit from re-reading, especially if a later turn of events shows that you might have missed something. Don’t worry! This happens to everyone and just proves that you are paying attention!

Comprehension works on several levels simultaneously. Consider how context and setting relate to events. Ponder the way in which events relate to each other. Creating a timeline of events can be one very useful method for understanding a text. Don’t forget that events are not always revealed in the order in which they occur chronologically. Creating chapter summaries can be helpful in order to visualise the structure of the text, especially when that differs from the chronological timeline.

Think about the way in which characters’ motivations are revealed by their actions. Are there any clues in the text to explain their behaviour? Should readers understand their words at face value, or should the subtext of those words be examined more closely? Does the speech of a character always match his or her actions and beliefs? Try to answer why or why not, justifying your views by referring in detail to the text.

One extremely useful activity is to analyse beginnings and endings. Can you think of any reason the text begins as it does? How do you come to find out about the past? Is there any distance between the narrator and the time when reported events took place? Any foreshadowing of future events? How? Analyse individual chapters in the same way, by considering the significance of their beginnings and endings. By undertaking detailed analysis of this sort, you will really improve your comprehension of the text!

Read the questions below on George Eliot's Silas Marner and test your knowledge and understanding of the text.

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  1. How does Nancy respond to Godfrey's admission that he is Eppie's father?
    Nancy is not angry with Godfrey, telling him she only wishes he had acknowledged Eppie sooner so that they could have raised her together. She believes their lives would have been better with Eppie
  2. Which of the following is true of Dunstan?
    Dunstan originally plans to bully Silas into loaning him some money
  3. From what does Silas believe he has been saved?
    Silas comes to see the deathly hold his gold had over him and feels that Eppie saved him from its unwholesome grasp. He contrasts it with Eppie's living gaze, touch and voice
  4. How does Silas view the first arrival of Eppie at his hearth?
    Silas views Eppie as a pure gift to him and as a lesson teaching him that the love of another person is true wealth
  5. How many years pass between the ending of Part One and the beginning of Part Two of the book?
    The first part of the novel considers Silas's loss, loneliness and alienation from humanity, while the second part demonstrates his reintegration into human society following Eppie's arrival
  6. Which of the following is NOT true of the investigation which follows the theft of Silas's money?
    The investigation leaps very quickly on the idea of an outsider having committed the crime. The thought that a well-off son of the Squire could have committed the crime is not once considered
  7. Why is Silas Marner regarded as a "heathen" by many of the people of Raveloe?
    Several people encourage Silas to attend church, including Dolly, whose suspicions that Silas is a "heathen", or non-Christian, are confirmed when she finds him working on a Sunday
  8. Godfrey is being blackmailed by his brother Dunstan. What does Godfrey hope Dunstan will never reveal to their father?
    Godfrey warns Dunstan that the blackmail has limits, since his wife has threatened to reveal their secret marriage to his father. He lacks the courage, however, to tell the truth to his father and, as a consequence, lose face amongst their friends and neighbours. Instead he hopes that circumstances will change by chance and spare him
  9. How does the theft of Silas's money affect the attitude of the people of Raveloe towards him?
    By suffering misfortune, Silas begins to seem more familiar to the people of Raveloe. This is because they understand misfortune and can better relate to someone with whom they have shared experiences
  10. Why does Silas Marner move to Raveloe?
    The false accusations of his community leave Silas feeling mistrustful. He chooses to settle somewhere which will not remind him of the place where he lost love, fellowship and faith

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