Silas Lapham, a millionaire paint manufacturer in Boston. He is respected in business circles, but his family is not accepted socially. Garrulous, bourgeois, burly, and brusque, he reflects traits of the self-made man who loves his maker, yet he is compassionate with outsiders and loving to his family. Babbitt-like, he emulates men he has admired for their savoir faire. Bankrupt after a series of business reverses, he gladly leaves the material comforts of Boston to return with his family to the modest living of their earlier days. Lapham is called “Colonel,” his rank when he was injured at Gettysburg during the Civil War.
Persis Lapham, his wife. Like her husband, she has kept the ways of the country. More aware of present social conduct than is her husband, she is no more capable of observing the proprieties. Interested in marriage for her daughters, as well as prudent and self-effacing in social matters, she restrains herself in advising them. As an influence in his affairs, she goads Lapham into business dealings, to her involving morality, only to regret later the action taken. When uninformed of his activities, she becomes suspicious; she is remorseful and self-reproaching when she senses her unfounded jealousies. To Persis, returning to the country is an escape from the rigors of Boston’s social life and her inability to cope with status.
Irene, the Laphams’ younger daughter. Quiet, reserved, beautiful, and domestic, she infers that Tom Corey is interested in her, only to learn that he is in love with her sister. She escapes the sympathy and questioning of her family and the trials of the family’s financial reverses through a month-long visit with relatives in the Midwest. Returning to Boston to let the family know that her cousin’s evident interest in her is another misleading affair, she becomes a virtual recluse other than for visits to the Midwest.
(The entire section is 835 words.)