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Religion and Prejudice in Silas Marner by George Eliot

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In this essay I am going to analyse religion and prejudice in Silas Marner by giving quotations both from the book and articles. Firstly, I will give some information about George Eliot and her point of view on religion. Then, I am going to summarize Victorian Age’s religion. George Eliot spent 21 years in Warwickshire in a farm. These years were helpful for Eliot in order to know people. George Eliot had not a strict manner against religion, morality and politic. Attending to freethinker community leads to get some new ideas. Interpreting George Eliot’s religious point of view perhaps is the only way to know Eliot’s ideology and understand her works. According to some critics Eliot was an atheist. The other critics said Eliot was a religious symbol of her time.


In Victorian age, religion was very popular for a while. The society were very religious. There were many churches having visited by people. They read Bible deeply and organized their life according to Bible and church. They had God fearing. But, after a while people started to question the religion. It was because of industrialization and new developments in science. The emergence of scientific ideologies were the main reason on decreasing of old religious beliefs and superstitions. Because of these advancements there was a rise on the level of literacy. People became well educated. After industrial revolution the job opportunities expand and the people who lived in country started to come to cities for work. Communication became easier and travelling was not hard anymore. Thanks to these developments, people got a comfort and they started to pull away from religion and spirituality. Because of depending on church blindly they could not see their right before those bulk of developments. After the industrialization, the amount of people who wanted to be priest or minister was too little. They chose to do business and scientific work. In this period church lost its power and authority on people against science.

Liang Zhang described the Victorian age in his article ‘A Moral World Without God: On the Religion of Humanity of George Eliot in Silas Marner’ like that:

‘Victorian period saw the various ideas appear frequently. In science and technology, the Victorians brought forth the modern idea of ‘invention’ the notion that one could create solutions to the problems that man could create new means of bettering himself and his environment. In religion, the Victorians experienced a great age of doubt, and people began to raise doubts about institutional Christianity on large scale. In ideology, politics and society, Victorians created astonishing innovations and changes: democracy, feminism, unionization, of workers, socialism, Marxism and other modern movement took from. The most serious challenge religion met in 19th century was from the field of biology. Evolution, progress and natural laws were intimately related in understanding of nature. Darwin was a name well known to the whole world’.

After all these information when we check the religion in Silas Marner, perhaps we can say that it is the most complex theme of religion having used in a novel so far. When we read novel we can understand the narrator had already been exposed to some pity events by people who have superstition. He explained it in novel:

‘Such strange lingering echoes of the old demon worship might perhaps even now be caught by the diligent listener among the grey haired peasantry, for the rude mind with difficulty associates the ideas of power and benignity. A shadowy conception of power that by much persuasion can be induced to refrain from inflicting harm, is the shape most easily taken by the sense of the Invisible in the minds of men who have always been close by primitive wants and to whom a life of hard toil has never been illuminated by any enthusiastic religious faith. To them pain and mishap present for a wider of possibilities than gladness and enjoyment: their imagination is almost barren of the images that feed desire and hope, but is all over grown by recollections that are a perpetual pasture to fear.’ 

Through this quotation we can say that the narrator has tend to religion. He is against superstitions not against religion. According to him, God, named as ‘Invisible’ is good and positive power. He thinks that God is one who brings ‘hope’ to whole world. That’s why when we think just for a while, we will understand religion is not against ‘gladness and enjoyment’ as he said. As a result of it ‘the ideas of power and benignity’ can be sustain altogether. Superstitions is the idea of believing something that are not based on logical basis. These ideas have not real results, they are not proven. When we read quotation it is clear that he struggles with superstitions and ‘rude’ mind of the peasant ‘has never been illuminated by any enthusiastic faith’. The other expression shows us that narrator makes a comparison between superstition and enthusiastic religion faith. Divine inspiration is the source of this idea. This quote gives us a chance to analyse religion and pushes us to make comparison between religions and people.

Besides the ideas of narrator, writer also put her ideas through the novel. Her idea was replacing the religion with a something new. Because she thinks that religion is not the way to solve the problems. When we look at the ideas of Silas we will see writer is right partly. Silas connection with church was emotionally. He thinks his attitudes to religion is simple as love of a child for his parents. He is not aware of essence of religion. A quote reflects it like that:

‘His first movement after shock had been to work in his loom: and he went on with his unremittingly, never asking himself why, now he was come to Raveloe. He worked for on into the night to finish the take Mrs. Osgood’s table linen sooner than she expected without contemplating beforehand the money she would put into his hand for the work. He seemed to weave, like the spider, from pure impulse, without reflection. Every man’s work, pursued steadily, tends in this way to became end itself, and so to bridge over the loveless chasms of his life.’ 

Examining this quote will give us the idea of writer. According to her religion should be replaced with something else. She gives us a message to run away from the problems that cannot be solved with religion. Everybody should be busy with their jobs and concerns. George Eliot wants reflection without self-interest working is also an item to cope with problems in life. He dedicated himself to his work. While the other town saw him as guilty, Silas made a relation by working in Raveloe. Working was an item for forgetting his past. He did his work for pleasure and for the sake of himself in terms of run away from the problems. Antti Nuutila explains the religion in her article ‘The Function of Religion in Silas Marner and The Slave’ like that;

‘There are two different societies depicted in the story, both of them Christian. The functions of a religious community are described from multiple angles. We are offered both an insider and outsider perspective. We are shown the effect of expulsion of a man from one religious community, and of his later inclusion in another. Thematically the novel has a great deal to offer for a reading based on religious. Religion is like a house: a construct that holds people close to each other, allows them to live together comfortably and determines the specific form that a community takes.’ 

The condition of life was not good everyone wanted to get something from another one. Every man dealt with his self-interest. That’s why I cannot agree with the idea of George Eliot. When people were tricky like this, the only way to prevent immorality in public is religion. If we just rebel against God or run away from religion it will never be sincere. Religion should be the first criteria to connect people to each other. Everything has a reason, if we go away from religion it will be a defeat for us. Because by all these problems, concerns; we are in an exam by God.

So, we can say that thanks to Silas, George Eliot showed all her feelings, beliefs and thought against God. For example; G. Eliot did not believe to the church because she thinks that the morals behaviours are provided neither by religion nor church. It made Silas inspirited from G. Eliot. At the beginning of novel Silas goes to church and pray here whole day. But afterwards some pity events pushes him to lose his faith against religion and God. The strong connection between Silas and religion stated like that in novel;

‘God will clear me: I know nothing about the knife being there or money being gone. Search me and my dwelling; you will find nothing but three pound five of my own savings, which William Dane knows I have had these six months ‘ At this William groaned, but the minister said’ The proof is heavy against you, brother Marner’.

In this quotation we can understand that Silas had a hope. There was no witness and no evidence. All the evidences were against him. William Dane is the one who is going to charge him with the stealing money. There is a sentence which uttered by Silas many times. ‘God will clear me’. William Dane is responsible for stealing money and at the end of the novel the sentence of Silas comes true. Silas never lost his believe to God till this time. He still was waiting for a miracle. It could be an angel or sound. His expectation for divine interference shows us the point of view of people at that time. The religious person was very religious, the person who pursue cheating was very tricky. The prosecution was done secretly from public. Because they think that other member of church may be affected that time church had a great impact on society. They did not want to lose their dominance on public. Religion was used by them for centuries. They arranged the rule of religion for the sake of themselves. If people knew that situation, there would be a rebellion against them and their fame would be shaken.

But all these was not problem for Silas. Because he was connected to God and religion profoundly. In this quotation, his faith to William Dane was the example for his believing on God. He always said ‘God will clear me’ since he knew God is the only one who protect people right and he believe that his innocence will be proved only by God. No one believe him including Dane, his best friend.

Thomson Fred claims the loneliness of Silas in his article ‘The Theme of Alienation in Silas Marner’: ‘Not that Silas Marner is a tragedy. Certainly main contour of the second half and the ending are of an opposite nature; but the portions describing Silas’ exile, loneliness, and deprivation are dark-hued indeed’. 

Through this quotation we can understand that the only guilty are people not religion. Silas becomes alone all these events partly. According to me religion is not guilty in this point because God created all religions without any mistake. If Silas followed the religion although these problems, he would be happier than now.

As Thomas Hobbes said: ‘Homo homini lupus’. It means that people are guilty on every situation. There are lots of self-seeker people, they will trip us for the sake of themselves because mankind is always greedy. When they got something, they will want another one. Unfortunately, ıt will never be ended. Using people for the aims is the worst the illness. Therefore, we should not move away from God or religion because people like this. Experiencing pity events should not be the reason for losing our beliefs or faith. We must rise with a stronger belief even if we are always defeated. It is not a remedy to get away from people. The only one who will save us are God and our beliefs. If we wait for a divine interference, everything will happen in a fair way. By these events, we are in an exam by God however it is pity. People are taken to some duties. We do not know which is good or which is bad for us. Sometimes we can be ill for example, we think that why it happen to me, but sometimes illnesses are good for our health. Faithful person can run away from their beliefs. The faithful person is the one who know how he do to cope with problems. He does his duty and leave the rest to God.

Ian Milner states this situation of Silas in his article ‘Structure and Quality in Silas Marner’;

‘Silas, at the outset, gives the impression of presence, not of an individualized personality. When we are carried back fifteen years to Lantern Yard we have a momentary glimpse of a devout but featureless young man, wholly absorbed by his faith. What matter and what stands out in the telling is the wrong done to Marner- the cold malice of a friend that destroys his place in the community, cuts of his marriage and blast his faith’. (p.3)

So we can understand that moving away of Silas was not against religion. He dedicated himself to his faith, beliefs and religion. Faith was all his life. Mankind is the only one who corrupts all the beauties of world and humanity.

David Sonstroem claims this situation in his article ‘The Breaks in Silas Marner’ like that:

‘All the readers of Silas Marner agree with George Eliot’s broad statement of purpose: Silas ‘sets in a strong light the remedial influences of a pure, natural human relations’. All agree too, with David R. Carroll’s authoritative essay which argues that the novel assumes ‘an alien universe’ and express an agnostic point of view. ‘Human relations’ then tend to assuage the ills of a life led in a godless world. But confusion and debate arise over the novel’s many chance events. By bestowing so many good and bad break on her characters- by acting as dea ex machina- George Eliot would seem to apply that the universe is morally responsive and providential rather than amoral and indifferent humanity.

Superstition and Prejudice

At the beginning of novel narrator uses some word such as ‘superstition’ and reflects sides of it. Damaging effects of superstition will be offered clearly. The main theme of the first chapter is Silas’ conception of superstition. Also, narrator is against superstition to religion. Although the negativity, narrator tells about positive aspects simultaneously. The village of Raveloe, is not a poor village. Silas lived there for fifteen years. Superstition was very common among the peasants. Silas left his village because of some immoral religious problems which were not real. When he came to Raveloe, he was unwanted person because of his appearance and he had lost his faith before coming to Raveloe. People of this village had a lots of prejudice. After the alienating by people in Raveloe, he lost his faith on people rather well. In novel, there is a part that explain this situation :’the shepherd’s dog barked fiercely when one of these alien-looking men appeared on the upland, dark against the early winter sunset; for what dog likes a figure bent under a heavy bag?- and these pale man rarely stirred abroad without that mysterious burden. 

We can easily say that it is an implicit superstition of peasants that tells by narrator. The shepherd saw the man as equal to his dog, therefore the prejudice is seen here clearly. It can be defined as Xenophobia. When they knew Silas very their ideas changed against Silas. Firstly, they think this man as a person who turns their spring to winter. The job of Silas was thought as the job of Devil. J. H. Mazaheri explains this quotation in his article ‘George Eliot’s Spiritual Quest in Silas Marner’ like that:

‘The weaving job is associated in the mind of these people with the devil. The shepherd who is just an ordinary habitant of Raveloe- not backward folks relatively speaking as we have noticed above- knows very well the weaving trade is ‘indispensable’ but still distrusts the weaver just because he is superstitious. This detail, however should not make us think of Silas Marner as fairy tale. This novel is overall another ‘realist’ novel by G. Eliot, realism in the sense she understood it.’ 

This kind of person like shepherd are ignorant and superstition hurts.


Due to Eliot’s interpretation on religion we can clearly understand that she points out on humanity rather than religion. Silas Marner shed light on the nature of religion. Because of lack of faith Silas exposed to an isolation. It shows us that religion can be both connective and separator. If there had not been religion the cooperation between people would be so weak. At the same time moral values that source from religion would not put in society. Religion can be accepted as spiritual awakening. Putting religion on laws will prevent a lots of immoral behaviours in society. In Raveloe, Silas experienced this situation many times. We should that that people are temporary, religion and God are the only ones that is eternal. Of course there are some negative affects but does not originate from religion. It originates from people’s own mind and superstition in their mind. People should improve their mind and arrange their mind according to true laws of religion. Anna Neill explains the religious situation of Silas in her article ‘The Primitive Mind of Silas Marner’ like that;

‘Unable to penetrate Silas’s consciousness, the narrator cannot bring subjective and social realities into sympathetic dialogue and her characters are correspondingly incapable of the kind of emotional growth achieved by a Dorothea or a Gwendolyn. There is, of course, some such growth in the novel. The Raveloe community becomes kinder and more accepting, in step with the emotional development of its central characters: an outsider becomes gradually more open to his neighbours and a self-absorbed member of the gentry learns to appreciate how his decisions impact the emotional lives of all those around him. On the other hand, the village characters are never reformed in their belief in the agency of the supernatural; their faith that Silas’s condition consists of a marvellous wandering of the soul from the body is paired at the end of the story with their confidence that his ‘strange history’ is infused with ‘blessing’.

Work Cited

  • Eliot, George. Silas Marner: The Weaver of Raveloe. İstanbul: Dejavu Publishing. 2011. Print.
  • Neill, Anna. “The Primitive Mind of Silas Marner”. The Johns Hopkins University Press. 75.4. (2008): 932-962. JSTOR. Web. 09 December 2017.
  • Nuutila, Antti. “The function of religion in Silas Marner and The Slave.” University of Tampere. 5.1 (2015): 84. JSTOR. Web. 09 December 2017.
  • Milner, Ian. “Structure and Quality in Silas Marner”. Rice University. 6.4 (1966): 717-729. JSTOR. Web. 09 December 2017.
  • Sonstroem, David. “The Breaks in Silas Marner”. University of Illinois Press. 97.4. (1998): 545-567. Taylor&Francis. Web. 09 December 2017.
  • Thomsan, Fred. “The Theme of Alienation in Silas Marner”. Nineteenth Century Fiction. 20.1. (1985): 12-20. JSTOR. Web. 09 December 2017.
  • Zhang, Liang. “A Moral World without God—On the Religion of Humanity of George Eliot in Silas Marner” Academy Publisher. 3.3 (2013): 445-451 JSTOR. Web. 09 December 2017.

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