Summary and Analysis
This chapter delves further into Silas' social position. He does not treat Tom any better than one of his clerks; yet he likes to brag of Tom's presence on his staff. He believes that Tom is a born businessman and plots to have him marry Irene. Tom visits their new home and finds that, aside from business, horses, and the new house, he has little to talk about with Silas. He tries to suggest to Irene the books to include in their new library and gives her a wood shaving that they have amused themselves with.
He reports to his family that the Laphams do not read with any attention to quality, but that they are not unintelligent people. "They are very quick, and they are shrewd and sensible," he says.
"I have no doubt that some of the Sioux are so," his father retorts. "But that is not saying that they are civilized. All civilization comes through literature now, especially in our country." Bromfield, however, believes that there should be a dinner to recognize Tom's connection with the Laphams.
Silas is at the same moment wondering why there have been no such social overtures. He unrealistically maintains that his daughters are equal to Bromfields'. Irene is also wondering what can be done to further her romance. Penelope tells her that she doesn't have to do anything. "Whether this is either an advantage or a disadvantage, I'm not always sure," she says.
Silas' pride is again indicated by his treatment of Tom as an underling and by his bragging of having a Corey employee. His thoughts of marrying Irene to Tom increase his pride, for he must convince himself that his daughters are equal to the Corey sisters.
Tom's suggestion of authors to be included in the Lapham's library is an instinctive action to help them become better citizens and more socially accepted. The wood shaving he gives to Irene is symbolic of the mistaken romance. Irene believes it to be a love token, but it is not. It is also from the new house, which is a larger symbol of romantic ideas.
The Coreys' conversation concerning civilization marks Lapham as being savage like the Sioux, which is a good comparison when his background is considered. "Civilization is not an affair of epochs and nations," Bromfield points out. "It's really an affair of individuals. One brother will be civilized and the other barbarian." In this conversation, Bromfield is hinting to Tom that Irene is not a girl of position, which is one of Tom's requirements in a wife.
Mrs. Lapham is aware that the Coreys are civilized and that they themselves are barbaric. Silas, however, contends that they are equal and should be invited to the Coreys' home or that they should even be able to make the first advances. "Oh, it isn't what you've got, and it isn't what you've done exactly. It's what you are," Mrs. Lapham tells Silas. "He's [Bromfield] been all his life in society, and he knows just what to say and what to do, and he can talk about the things that society people like to talk about, and you — can't. It puts him where he can make the advances without demeaning himself, and it puts you where you can't." She is for the moment being realistic about the situation.
Penelope's comment that Irene needs to do nothing to further her romance with Tom Corey is an expression of a romantic tradition which she questions. She predicts the rise of the aggressive modern woman.