Thursday, September 24, 2009

Silas Marner, or the virtue of leaving your door open

I finally read Silas Marner! I was supposed to have read it in high school (everyone else did), but I happened to have been provided by Providence (a major theme in Silas Marner) with a remarkable, memorable great teacher who taught Moby Dick instead. This is not to say the one is better than the other, though Silas Marner is not Moby Dick, and to be fair, Moby Dick is no Silas Marner. But both are great! One of the themes of Silas Marner is that things will work out after a while, and it so happens that having been assigned Moby Dick instead of Silas Marner did work out extraordinarily well--my wonderful teacher assigned me the task of writing about all the metaphors and symbols and other figures in Moby Dick that I could find, and I was so enthused about it that I came to get hooked on finding them everywhere--and throughout my lifetime.

Ergo: When I worked on my BA I wrote about Shakespeare's influence on Moby Dick,and how Pip in Moby Dick was analogous to the Fool in King Lear, and Lear analogous to Captain Ahab. When I worked on my MA I assigned myself the task of writing about all the metaphors and symbols and other figures in King Lear, Bob Dylan's lyrics, and the Japanese Noh play Nishikigi. When I worked on my doctorate I assigned myself the task of writing about all the metaphors and symbols and other figures in nationally distributed 4th to 8th grade science trade books and textbooks. I had one friend who knew me most of that whole time who found it remarkable that I had written about metaphor for so long--and it all began with my wonderful teacher assigning us Moby Dick instead of Silas Marner.

My wonderful teacher at Kents Hill, Mr. Fosse, may have been remiss about assigning me Moby Dick instead of Silas Marner, but he certainly knew how to make assignments that lasted for a lifetime. He told us his colleagues mocked him for trying to teach Moby Dick to high school students, but I for one greatly profited from it. For one thing, I discovered a lot of the other kids were coming to me for help writing their papers on what the different chapters in Moby Dick meant. I actually had ideas about it while many of them didn't have a clue. This in turn helped me realize, along with getting an A+ in geometry, that I must not be retarded! I was sure I was, because I didn't have very good grades and I never seemed to know how to be anywhere on time like the other kids (B minus average, 41st in a class of 76). So the fact they came to me for help interpreting Moby Dick helped me see I must not be retarded ....(this was years before "self-esteem" popped up)--years later I realized the bad grades and the geographical disorientation were due to all the reading and thinking I was doing nonstop to the neglect of everything else; plus I was near-sighted. They did not call it ADHD then--more likely, absent-minded professor-like (I was always and still am, reading about five books at once.) Only I wasn't a professor yet then, I just thought and acted like one. So they didn't and I didn't know what was my problem--I logically concluded I must be retarded. So you see being assigned Moby Dick was a very good thing for me--I did get an A in that class--and so did many others, due to my insights and the papers they turned in written by me (I didn't mind--it made me feel not stupid you see).

Fifty years passed. Finally I read Silas Marner!

As I started to read it, I thought wow! How did I miss this for so long? Of course as an English major (anthrolology, my first love, not being offered in the only college which accepted me) I knew all about it , and knew about George Eliot too--and Middlemarch, and Mill on the Floss. My own mother loved Mill on the Floss and gave it to me once for a birthday present--I dropped it after a few pages. I emailed my friend (who naturally was assigned it in high school along with everyone else) and she reminded me how George Eliot and Frederick Chopin (another of my great loves) had been an item, and the movie I saw about that all came back to me.

Silas Marner takes place in a mythical place where good things happen to you because you leave your door unlocked and where if a two year old child of a young drug addict wanders into your livingroom after its mother has passed out and died not far away outside your unlocked door, you get to keep it and adopt it and raise it to happy adulthood, no questions asked, no adoption papers to make out or anything. It is definitely my kind of book. Immediately I identified with Silas Marner! For one thing, he is way too trusting--something my mother was always telling me, though I didn't believe her (I was defiantly trusting of all others); and, like Silas Marner, I too am near-sighted. Like him I enjoy the sight of my gold coins (various and unnamed), and his story of redemption by providence is mine too. I have hope, you see, because I leave my door open too.....

Silas Marner's faith in providence and in his fellow man is redeemed by the theft (quite beyond his control though he enables it by leaving his door open) of what his narrower focus must be until a greater one arrives--also enabled by him--when a child wanders in through his open door. This has happened to me a great number of times, and continues to happen. To date I have nine children and who knows how many more are about to arrive, for isn't my door still open?

Read it! It's wonderful! Especially if you had to read it in high school. Re-reading it after having lived a while will only make it better--and you'll "get it" this time ever so much more. In a way, Silas Marner was the child that wandered in my door of late, bringing with it so much light on the progress of my days and the content of my character. Some call it providence, some fate. I am beginning to believe in it, just as my narrow scope on life has widened so far as to now being able to detect the feelings of those who live in the mythical land across the wide Atlantic.

1 comment:

  1. Beautifully written, and you're right, I didn't have to read Silas Marner to understand it (phew!).