The Rise of Silas Lapham
Helped along by pluck and luck, Silas Lapham has traveled the road from poor farmer to successful businessman. He has made his fortune by manufacturing a useful product (paint) and by selling it at a fair price. Having tasted success, Silas grows greedy. He squeezes his partner, Rogers, out of the business and then rationalizes his action as having been for the good of the company. Lapham subsequently turns from the hard work that has contributed to his rise in the world to stock speculation, an activity that will contribute to his downfall.
Written during a time of unprecedented growth and vulgarity in America, THE RISE OF SILAS LAPHAM dramatizes the moral dilemma that Howells found at the heart of that change. Silas is representative of the self-made man, the rugged individual as entrepreneur, so prevalent in the boom times of late-19th century America. Like those he represents, Silas finds himself between states: the old and the new, rural Vermont and cosmopolitan Boston, and more especially between the Puritan morality of his wife Persis and the social Darwinism of the robber barons.
If Rogers and Persis represent Silas’ past, the original sin and his guilt over that sin which taints his present success, then the house he builds in Boston’s Back Bay area represents his ambiguous future. On the one hand the house suggests the worst in Silas: an expression of the parvenu’s faith in conspicuous consumption. On the other hand, it implies a latent aesthetic sensibility still in need of considerable guidance and...
(The entire section is 629 words.)