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Sadia Ghaznavi



Basis of Moral Action in ‘Silas Marner’ and ‘Great Expectations’



4th December, 2017





Term Paper

Fiction has through ages
provided stories about good and evil, and about heroes and villains. When
fictional characters are going through life they follow a map based on
religion, ideology, people, and activities to help making choices. The choices
are divided into what people ought to do and what people would like to do. The
philosopher Immanuel Kant stated that what ought to be done is the true form of

In this essay, the two
novels: “Silas Marner” and “Great Expectations” are contrasted on
the basis of their moral action. The primary characteristic of Victorian
novelists is found in the analysis of problems of life and in the
recommendation of methods of solution. 
In this respect, George Eliot far surpasses all the others.  She likes to trace the causes and effects of
actions.  Most of her novels are colored
with a strong sense of moral law.  That
is why she is called a moral novelist.

In Silas Marner, therefore, we shall focus on Eliot’s rendering her
characters search for self-redemption and how the themes of morality and
destiny are intrinsically linked together. In George Eliot’s’ Silas Marner, Silas Marner and Godfrey
Cass are the two characters who serve to illustrate the author’s philosophy of
life: tragedy and suffering constantly lurk behind humans on every turn of
their life.  Thus, these two characters’
search for self-redemption would naturally become the major concern for most of
the readers. The interest of this novel lies in the fact that true wealth is
love, not gold.  Silas loses his gold
only to reclaim a greater treasure of fellowship.  It bears a moral truth, but George Eliot
achieves this by way of telling a fable-like tale, instead of giving a drowsy
moral lecture.  It is “essentially a myth
of spiritual rebirth,” as Walter Allen remarks. 
Besides, Godfrey’s moral weaknesses are another concern for George
Eliot.  He just could not pluck up his
courage to admit the mistakes he had made and accordingly this indecisiveness
kept torturing him for many years.

Consequently, Pip’s
choices in Great Expectations are mostly
based on morality. In novel Chapter 27, when Joe is going to London to see his
news, not only not happy, but rather upset, “never forget each other’s identity
disparity” in particular. So, it might be that Joe’s arrival will be the defeat
of Pip’s rivals and affect his social status in the competitiveness. When he found
out that Joe had just come to inform him that Miss Havisham was expecting him,
he pondered over it and said, if only he had early learned about this earlier
that Joe has brought the news about Estella, he would have behaved m. It fully
shows that Pip now is not only a villain, but is also a person with heavy color
sight to his friend. His morality and conscience have bottomed. But this time,
the official Pip in society is actually happy during his lifetime. We can now deduce
that what controls the Pip’s power of words and actions and moral judge is
vanity. The adult Pip acknowledges the deeds that he once had done and now its
guilt has overtaken him. He says:  “I
was in mortal terror of myself… I am afraid to think of what I might have
done on requirement, in the secrecy of my terror.” (page 13, chapter 2) Pip
is not prepared to the best of conscience, and utterly being a betrayer. Having
become a so-called gentleman, whenever the feeling of guilt and remorse has
dawned upon him, Joe has always appeared in his mind’s picture. It is the
concept of gentleman that just lets him classify labor people and their lifestyle
as cheap.

Although the plot of
Godfrey Cass in Silas Marner, an
affluent country squire, seems not as important as that of Silas yet it bears a
tinge of moral duty too. Since the very day when Eppie had come to Silas’s
cottage, Godfrey had been inflicted with the secret knowledge that he was her
real father.  He was not a terrible
person; in fact, he was a man of good nature. 
He wanted to right the wrongs, but he could not pluck up his courage to
claim the baby of his own.  The fact that
George Eliot is always concerned with the moral choices her characters have to
make is obviously expressed in the character of Godfrey Cass, who wanted to be
righteous but was reluctant in carrying it out. 
For sixteen years, he had agonized with such certainty that his child was
growing up under the care of Silas Marner. This is what makes the difference
between Charles Dickens and George Eliot. 
Dickens’s characters are pre-shaped; readers can sensibly be sure what
his characters would do under given circumstances.  Eliot’s characters develop gradually; they
are more dynamic.  They develop from
weakness to strength or from strength to weakness, according to the thoughts
they cherish and the work they do. 
Silas’s fortuity began to improve while Godfrey’s began to crash down.
According to George Eliot, a man’s life and fate are determined by his moral
choices, and it is the individual’s choice of actions that shapes his life.
When Godfrey heard the news of the death of his first wife, he even felt an
evil terror, “… one terror in his mind at that moment: it was that the woman might
not be dead.”  The greatest demerit of
his life was obviously his lack of moral courage for action.

Godfrey never believed in
the system of rewards and punishments; consequently, in his late years he had
to simply accept his state of affairs as a divine punishment.  Moreover, Eppie’s refusal to leave Silas was conjointly
a cruel punishment to Godfrey.  He had
deserved the bitter result as George Eliot remarks, “the seed brings forth the
crop after its kind.”  Besides, George
Eliot morally makes Godfrey say, “there’s debts we can’t pay like money debts,
by paying extra for the years that have slipped by.  While I’ve been putting off and putting off,
the trees have been growing—it’s too late now.” This self-confession, however,
had reduced more or less Godfrey’s long-cherished inflictions because he had
viewed his childlessness as punishment, and to this punishment Godfrey might
solely consent.

There was a crucial
episode in Pip’s life. He was tricked by Mr. Aguilar to small kiln and had
nearly got killed. Before Mr. Aguilar got there to him, Pip had thought once or
two times of Joe and Biddy. “Joe and Biddy would never know me how greatly
guilty I was for them at that night” (LI, 2009, p. 116). Pip was heavily
indebted, had became restless and exhaustion had possessed his mind and body.  And for next few weeks, he stayed in coma due
to severe illness. Pip awoke from the illusion, just knowing it was Joe that he
once had abandoned him and even almost had cheated him. Joe gave his meticulous
care and love. Joe not only helped him recover fast from his disease,
furthermore, paid all his debts which lifted a heavy burden off Pip’s
conscience. In reply to this affectionate behavior, Pip showed his gratitude to
Joe and Biddy, and his moral consciousness was now waking again; conscience had
defeated over the vanity of ingratitude.

Young Pip’s specific
natural environment of life made him have the kind, truthful, and grateful attributes
but adapting to a new social environment altogether can be heartfelt. Such new environment
had transformed and shaped Pip’s personality, changing from an innocent young
man full of illusion for life to a rich, self-reliant and power-controlled
adult. “The novel portrays a satirical view of the society and of those people
who desire to advance to the upper class” (GUO, 2009, p. 198).

“As I had grown
accustomed to my expectations, I had unconsciously started to notice their affect
upon myself and on people around me. Their impact on my own character I
disguised from my recognition as much as possible, but I knew very well that it
was not all good.” (Chapter 34, lines 1-4)

The series of events
occurring in Great Expectations show
that the story is about redemption and transformation of a person from making
wrong moral choices to the wise ones. Pip meets Miss Havisham and Estella in
Satis House and starts to feel empty and inadequate. This leads to a struggle
for Pip to fill his emptiness. In his struggle, he meets different sins within
himself and in others, for example pride, avarice, lust, gluttony and wrath and
the story progresses towards as to how Pip deals with the sins mentioned. Pip starts
to acknowledge that not all of his expectations have good influences and his
life would have been less complicated and much happier if only he had never met
Miss Havisham and Estella.