The Rise of Silas Lapham By William Dean Howells Summary and Analysis Chapter III

Summary

Irene receives a Texas newspaper containing an account of the Honorable Loring G. Stanton ranch. Her mother suspects that it is a love token from Tom Corey, who is spending the winter on a Texas ranch. Irene clips the account from the paper and saves it.

Lapham begins to build his house. His plan is the epitome of ugliness, and his architect is able to persuade him to make changes. When Silas visits the site with his wife, his old partner, Rogers, pays an unexpected call. Lapham will not speak to him and leaves the conversation which amounts to nothing, to Mrs. Lapham. Mrs. Lapham is reminded that the house is being constructed with part of a fortune amassed from capital Rogers originally put into Lapham's paint business. "I sha'n't live in it. There's blood on it" she says.

Persis firmly believes that Silas took advantage of Rogers by giving him the choice of either buying out or going out of the paint business. "You know he couldn't buy then. It was no choice at all. You unloaded [a partner] just at the time when you knew that your paint was going to be worth about twice what it ever had been; and you wanted all the advantage yourself. You crowded him out. A man that had saved you! No, you had got greedy, Silas. You had made your paint your god, and you couldn't bear to let anybody else share in its blessings."

Silas maintains that he never wanted a partner in the first place.

"If he hadn't put his money in when he did, you'd 'a' broken down," she retorts.

When Silas states that Rogers took more money out of the business than he put in, Persis reminds him that Rogers did not want to take his money out at all.

Analysis

The clipping is not from Tom Corey. It is later revealed that it is from a friend of Tom's; Tom thinks his friend might be interested in Irene. This mistaken token of affection symbolizes the mistaken romance that is assumed by the romantic Laphams and Coreys.

Lapham's plan for an ugly home show his lack of aesthetic appreciation. He has marred the New England landscape with advertisement, and he will offend Bromfield Corey with his ignorance.

When Persis accuses Silas of taking advantage of Rogers and being a greedy man, who has made paint his god, she sets the purpose and the line of development for the rest of the novel. Howells purpose is to show modern businessmen that they must continue to live by the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Silas would not have wanted Rogers to force him out of a profitable paint business if the situation had been reversed; Lapham has morally wronged his neighbor. Howells shows how a modern businessman should act when Silas later refuses to extort money from English settlers to save his business. When Silas decides to treat his neighbor as he himself wants to be treated, his character changes, giving the novel the aspect of character development.

Howells does give Lapham's viewpoint on the matter, pointing out that Silas was influenced by his wife to acquire a partner and that Lapham let Rogers take more money out of the business than he put in. Mrs. Lapham argues effectively, however, saying that Silas needed a partner to maintain the business and that Rogers did not want to take his money out of the profitable paint business.

Which viewpoint Howells wishes his readers to take is debatable. Yet, it is difficult to believe that he desires his readers to see Silas Lapham as a man who did no wrong; this view would rid the book of the purpose for which Howells seemingly wrote it and would fail to emphasize any character development. It would indicate also that Howells condoned such business practices as Lapham used in forcing Rogers out of the paint business — a position known to be contrary to Howells' belief.

"Happy is the man for ever after who can choose the ideal, the unselfish part in such an exigency," Howells says in the next chapter. "Lapham could not rise to it."

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