Critical Essays Plot of The Rise of Silas Lapham


Is the plot probable?

Although the plot of The Rise of Silas Lapham often seems somewhat contrived, it is probable; men have made and lost fortunes; other men have fallen in love with one girl, while being supposedly in love with another. Less likely is the return of Rogers at the moment Silas tries to climb the social ladder. When Rogers produces English agents willing to buy the mills at a high price, the story again seems a bit contrived. Yet, even these incidents could occur. They are surprises which sometimes happen.

Is the plot employed to convey ideas?

If Howells does employ facts in his plot that are not completely probable, he does it to convey ideas. His illustration of businessman's need for integrity based on sound moral judgment is shown through the events of Silas Lapham's life. Howells' plot is additionally used to express his ideas on art, the novel, and society. Quite often he simply has one of his characters, usually Bromfield or Sewell, make a statement on one of these ideas. Most of the time their statements are related to the plot only occasionally Howells has them speak merely for the sake of discussion

Is the plot simple or complex?

Two stories are told in The Rise of Silas Lapham (1) Silas financial rise and fall and (2) Penelope's Tom's and Irene's love story. The presence of two stories makes the plot only somewhat complex.

Are the two stories united? Silas' determination to be both wealthy and socially accepted is the strongest element in bringing the two stories together. He wants his daughter to marry into the aristocratic Corey family to enhance his position in society. Silas' life is guided by the words I want. His greed also causes him to gain and lose a fortune. By forcing Rogers out of the paint business he increases his wealth. Yet because he is greedy he invests too much in the stock market and fails. Remembrance of his slight to Rogers also causes him to lose money when he makes Rogers a loan. Both plots, then, are strongly related to Lapham's desire "to have," and this compulsion brings the two stories together.

Does the plot revolve around a conflict?

The most important conflict in The Rise of Silas Lapham is Silas' battle with his conscience. Did he wrong Rogers when he forced him out of the business? Can he rightfully sell the mills to the English for more than they are worth? When Silas spends the night trying to come to a decision on the mills, his wife is reminded of the Biblical character Jacob wrestling with an angel. When this conflict is resolved by Silas' decision not to sell to the English, the climax is reached, and the falling action of the novel begins.