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Stylistic Devices Used in Silas Marner by George Eliot

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One crucial component of any literature text is the associated literary devices used by the author. Stylistic devices, also known as figures of speech, refer to the vital tools of writing that are employed in literary works to create lively and interesting texts. They are responsible for getting, keeping and sustaining the attention of the readers. Through literary analysis of these devices, a reader of any literature text can branch beyond his own experiences and beliefs to build empathy and understand the thematic concerns of the author in producing the text. Literary analysis is also useful by enabling the reader not only to read and understand the text but also interpret it to examine how the text relates to his daily life. One artist who is associated with the skill of adopting various literary techniques to promote the readability and relevance of her literary texts is George Eliot.

George Eliot was a notable English novelist, journalist, poet, and translator. In the Victorian era, where female writers were underrated, George Eliot was a force to be reckoned with based on the masterpiece of her novels (Roberts). In most of her works, Eliot was associated with the extensive use of visual vocabulary to spice up her literature. In one of her greatest works, Silas Marner, Eliot shows her mastery of visual vocabulary by using various literal stylistic devices, such as irony, flashbacks, symbolism, allegory, and foreshadowing, all of which make her work simple, rounded, but enjoyable and engaging. Eliot, in describing Silas Marner’s tribulations and fate, opts for the use of various stylistic devices. George Eliot adopts literary device, such as symbolism, irony, sarcasm, imagery, allegory, foreshadowing, and flashback, to make the book more appealing and to enable readers to understand the main character’s tribulations and miseries.

Building the audience’s attentiveness

Literary devices are used by authors to build attentiveness by the reader in the story. An author may opt to give the reader a glance at the characters’ future events to enhance plot creativity. Authors foreshadow future events by providing hints in a plot to offer clues that subtly predict what will transpire later in the text. By using the foreshadowing stylistic device, the author enhances the attentiveness of the reader who appreciates the need to be keen in anticipation of future events to unfold. Eliot uses many examples of foreshadowing in the novel, which most readers would fail to notice until they read the story at least for the second time. In most cases, she employs a foreshadowing device to inform the reader of the possibility of conflicts or resolution to those conflicts. For instance, the author uses the statement ‘a round, fair thing, with soft yellow rings all over its head’ to foreshadow the use of a rifle in the story. (Eliot 91) Eliot also describes the death of Dunstan to foreshadow the death of Lantern-Yard. She changes the tone of the story from a desperate and saddening tone to a happy and calm tone to foreshadow the possibility of Silas finally experiencing a change in his life that bringing an end to his tribulations.

Enhancing the readers’ understanding of the plot

Authors use literary techniques as a way of progressing the plot of their story; for Eliot, flashbacks are the primary way of doing that. A flashback in a story is the transition of events to an earlier time, which interrupts the normal chronological order of events. Typically, authors often use flashbacks as a way of revealing some critical truths or facts about a character’s past, which otherwise the reader would not have known. George Eliot’s Silas Marner is made up of two halves. Each half consists of a flashback of Silas’s past in Lantern Yard and Raveloe. The flashbacks comprise of hints within foreshadows, which allude to future events that take place in the second half of the book. In part one of the novel, George Elliot enables the reader to gain vital insight into Silas Marner’s past. The author makes use of phrases like ‘Marner’s inward life had been a history’ and ‘before he came to Raveloe’ as illustrations of the flashback to introduce the story of Silas Marner’s past. (Eliot 5) Similarly, the author uses the past perfect tense in sentences that describe Marner’s life before Raveloe. The past perfect tense is employed for situations whereby action was completed or took place at some point in the past before something else happened, making it the ideal tense to use in the context of a flashback. An example of the use of flashback is evident from the phrase ‘It had seemed to the unsuspecting Silas that the friendship had suffered no chill even from his formation of another attachment of a closer kind’. (Eliot 130) The use of flashback, therefore, enables the reader to have a perfect understanding of the protagonist’s problems.

Attaching value to events through symbolism

Eliot also aims to attach a symbolic value to events in her book, which aim to develop the plot further, giving those events enhanced meaning. Symbolism involves the act of using one thing to represent something else. It is the author’s practice or art of using a simple object or a word to describe an abstract idea with a deeper and more significant meaning. Symbolism makes use of other figures of speech, such as metaphors and allegory. When Dunstan steals the gold that Silas has shed blood, tears, and sweat to earn, the protagonist almost gives up. Then he stumbles upon Eppie, who brings meaning and purpose into his life again. Symbolically, Silas’ adoptive daughter Eppie is a replacement for Silas’ lost treasure. The pit that swallowed Dunstan is also symbolically viewed as the unforgiving abyss that awaits guilty and unrepentant people. Silas’ door, which stands open, is a symbol of his spiritual condition through which evil and right take a turn coming to work their influence on him (Wiesenfarth 228). Therefore, the renewal of Silas’ faith can be said to be a symbol of his new changed life and belief. In this context, Eliot tries to portray Silas as a man who died but was given a second chance to come back to life.

George Eliot uses symbolism extravagantly in her book. In the novel, one element that has been used symbolically in the story is the loom. The loom is the source of Silas’s income as well as the sole means of sustaining his livelihood. On a deeper level, the loom is symbolic of his obsession with wealth and physical flaws. He is bent over because of working too hard and continuously for a long time. He also has poor eyesight. Also, the loom foreshadows the coming industrialization and its effect on manual laborers like Silas, who feels helpless and insignificant when he thinks about a shift into the industrial revolution. The essential symbolization of the loom is what it does. Silas’ use of it as his only source of livelihood is symbolic of how he weaved his way back into the community alongside his new daughter, who had given him a new lease at life. George Eliot describes Silas’s obsession with money by writing, ‘like the weaving and satisfaction of hunger, subsisting quite aloof from the life of belief and love from which he had been cut off’. 

Similarly, gold is used symbolically in Silas Manor. The protagonist becomes an obsessive laborer who is motivated by the prospect of acquiring and hoarding of gold. This is in the wake of losing his faith in God and other people. All the love that he previously had for life, he redirects to his gold. He works around the clock to acquire as much gold as possible. He hides his gold, hoards it, and frequently admires it. He gives the gold his undivided attention. George Eliot uses gold in the novel to symbolize Silas’ exclusion from society. In this context, Eliot tries to inform the reader of the dangers of being possessed with material wealth, which can make an individual lose the human touch and affection of others. Hearth, a term given to the area in front of any fireplace, also plays a significant symbolic role in the novel. In her vision, Eliot saw Raveloe be so different from Lantern-Yard, which was Silas’ home country. Eliot describes Raveloe as ‘a place where men… supped heavily and sleep in the light of the evening hearth’. (Eliot 12) Based on Eliot’s vision, the hearth symbolizes the security, warmth, abundance, and comfort, which were characterized by Raveloe.

Incorporating hidden messages in the story

To incorporate hidden messages in a story, allegories are used by Eliot. Allegory is a literary figure of speech in which the abstract principles and ideas presented by a novel, a narrative, or a poem are described in relation to a given hidden meaning. In employing the use of allegory, authors often achieve their objective of informing or explaining to the readers the primary goal or moral aspect of the story. In most cases, the aim of using allegory stylistic devices is to portray some moral lesson. On a critical analysis, the story of Silas Marner, his betrayal by his friend William and his fiancé, the accusation of robbery leveled against him, his depression and saddening state of living, the reintegration into Raveloe community, and the arrival of a child, are all used by George Eliot to portray the moral principles of salvation. (Eliot 8, 9, 92, 108) The story of Silas is a typical storyline in every Christian’s testimony of their fall and redemption. Silas’ story is a clear allegory of salvation. (Lakhani) However, it does not take place at Christmas. It takes place just after Christmas as the narrator says, ‘about the Christmas of that fifteenth year’ after Silas comes to Raveloe. (Lakhani) (Eliot 15) Here, George Eliot gives a clue that hints to the readers about dismissing Silas Marner as pure allegory because allegory is only part of the story. (Lakhani)

Another instance of allegory in the novel is when Dolly Winthrop decides to gift Silas a lardy-cake. The lady-cake was traditionally backed using a concoction of animal fat, sugar, flour, and spices to make it delicious. In gifting Silas, the cake, Dolly was sympathizing with him for losing his money. The cake was special, both on how it was presented and also on the purpose of its presentation. While presenting the cake, Dolly covers it with mysterious letters, which she claims no one knows what they mean. Dolly informs Silas that ‘there’s nobody, not Mr. Macey himself rightly knows what they mean, but they’ve a good meaning for they’re the same as in on the pulpit-cloth at church’ (Eliot 66). Surprisingly, the cake had the letters ‘I.H. S’ written on it. However, Silas is convinced that these letters represent the first letters of Jesus Christ’s name in the Greek language. While the reader may think that the letters are used by the author to show the moral principle of communion, the truth is that the cake and the writing both have hidden meanings. Dolly offers Silas the lardy-cake as a form of communion. Just like Jesus Christ offered his disciples wine and bread during the Last Supper, Dolly gifts Silas the cake to usher him into the communal lifestyle of the Raveloe village. Silas fails to eat the cake and opts to break it before he offers it to Aaron. Hence, Eliot uses the lardy-cake to portray the chronological events of the Last Supper and shows how this ritual has been integrated into the English countryside.

Emphasizing central ideas through irony

Eliot uses irony as a literal device, to make his audience stop and ponder about the message he is trying to convey. The irony is a literary device that is used to show the contrast or incongruity between what is expected and what occurs in a given situation. There are three types of irony; verbal irony, situational irony, and dramatic irony. Verbal irony involves things that are not exactly meant. On the other hand, situational irony occurs when, for example, a character is chuckling at the misfortune of another without realizing that the same misfortune is befalling them as well. (Irony) In situational irony, both the characters and the readers have disclosure of the implications of the real situation. (Irony) However, in dramatic irony, the characters are unaware of the situation, but the reader is privy to the actual situation. (Irony) While there may be various types of irony adopted by Eliot in the novel, two kinds of irony that are highly emphasized are situational and verbal ironies.

The first situational irony that George Eliot employs is manifested when Dunstan steals Silas’ gold, yet earlier in the novel, the protagonist was wrongfully accused of stealing. Even more ironical is the fact that his money was stolen from him by the son of a member of one of the wealthiest families in town. By the end of the book, the irony continues when the Dustan corpse is found buried in the quarry still holding on to Silas’ treasure. He fell into the quarry and had died while fleeing. The money had been within reach the whole time without Silas’ knowledge. However, when the money was retrieved, Silas no longer cared for it because he had found his treasure, Eppie (Dunhum). His daughter has replaced his loss multiple times over. In Silas’ opinion, Eppie was worth so much more than all the gold in the world. She had not only brought him back into the embrace of the society but also to his true self. Another example of situational irony is when Eliot shows the contradictory nature of the young ladies that confronts Silas for friendship. In the first instance, these ladies piqued Silas an eligible bachelor regardless of his peculiarity. However, when Silas asks one them to accept him, the ladies soon decline such gesture claiming that they cannot marry a dead man who comes back to life. The above situation is ironical because even though the ladies perceive Silas as an eligible bachelor, the latter remain uninterested in courting or socializing.


Eliot uses literary devices in her novel to portray the unique qualities of her characters and also to clarify the connection of various events and themes of the story. By using these devices, Eliot calls the reader’s attention to a character’s unique personalities that relate to the thematic concern of the story. Hence, these literary devices make the reader attend more strictly to every point Eliot wishes to make about a given character or situation. Also, the use of these devices invokes a range of emotions amongst the readers. In conclusion, George Eliot makes use of a wide array of other literary devices besides similes and metaphors. She employs symbolism to a great extent on its own or delivers it as a package alongside other figures of speech such as foreshadow and flashback as well as allegory. She also makes good use of irony to pass witty and comical messages to the reader. Her final product is a novel that is a very realist and provides a lot of psychological insight.

Works Cited

  • Eliot, George. Silas Marner. Houghton, Mifflin, 1899.
  • McCarthur Courtney. Silas Marner: Style, Symbol & Irony. 4th April 2009. Available from Accessed on 2nd October 2019.
  • Dunham, Robert H. “Silas Marner and the Wordsworthian Child.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 16.4 (1976): 645.
  • Nunokawa, Jeff. ‘The Miser’s Two Bodies: Silas Marner and the Sexual Possibilities of the Commodity.’ The Mill on the Floss and Silas Marner. Palgrave, London, 2002. 163-187.
  • Roberts, Neil. George Eliot: Her Beliefs and Her Art. Elek, 1975.
  • Sicher, Efraim. ‘George Eliot’s rescripting of scripture: The’ Ethics of Reading’ in Silas Marner.’ Semeia 77 (1997): 243.
  • Tariq, Mohammad. ‘Style, stylistics and stylistic analysis: A re-evaluation of the modern-day rhetorics of literary discourse.’ (2018).
  • Wiesenfarth, Joseph. ‘Demythologizing Silas Marner.’ ELH 37.2 (1970): 226-244.
  • Lakhani, Gunjan. “Symbolism, imagery, allegory – Analysis Silas Marner by George Eliot.” Edurev. Available from–Imagery–Allegory-Analysis–Silas-Marne/a296c5dd-6cdc-458e-a86b-cc5958b857b3_t?courseId=-1.
  • Irony. Literary devices: Definition and examples of literary terms.

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