The Rise of Silas Lapham By William Dean Howells Character Analysis Persis

Silas' wife was a schoolteacher and represented a social step up for him when he married her before his wealthier days. She worked well with him, helping him with the paint business until they were so wealthy that she only needed to find ways to spend their fortune. Silas says, "If it hadn't been for her, the paint wouldn't have come to anything. I used to tell her it wa'n't the seventy-five per cent of purr-ox-eyed of iron in the ore that made that paint go; it was the seventy-five per cent of purr-ox-eyed of iron in her."

Mrs. Lapham is a Puritan for whom the fire of guilt for sin and spiritual interference in the course of man's activities has nearly burnt out. She tells Silas that she does not believe in the Lord interfering a great deal, but when he makes Rogers a loan she feels he's interfered this time. Her lukewarm Puritanism extends to her lack of ability to help Silas make a moral decision concerning the English settlers. She would almost rather see him sell the mills and remain wealthy, repenting the rest of his life.

She is not a tragic or comic figure, but a pathetic one, for her morality represents the dry rot of the Puritan culture that will eventually crumble and disappear. As Silas' conscience, she is unsparing, caustic, pessimistic, temperamental, conservative, rigid, vindictive, and most of all, petty.

Like other romantic women, she cannot help Silas cope with his problems and loses all sight of the issues at the crisis. When Silas must decide upon either selling to the English agents at an unfair price or losing his business, her tears are the only help she can give him. She remains the weak, romantic figure throughout the novel. She believes that Tom Corey loves Irene and cannot cope with the situation when she finds that he does not. When the truth is known, she overemphasizes the emotional situation and must turn to Silas, who is more realistic at this point in the novel.

Persis Lapham, at least, recognizes her place in society when Silas does not. Because she knows that her family is not on the Coreys' social and educational level, she is somewhat against associating with them. She objects to moving into the house on Back Bay and is happy to return to the farm.

Like Silas, she is not artistic and has poor taste in clothes, pictures, and travel. She is a representative of those American women who are not strong enough to aid their husbands in the greatest hours.

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