Symbolism in The Rise of Silas Lapham
The Back Bay Home — The home built by Silas during his prosperity is the most far-ranging symbol of the book. It symbolizes the rise and fall of the materialistic Lapham himself. Just as Silas causes the house to burn by using the chimney one cold fall night, he also causes his own financial destruction by greed when he forces Rogers out of the business.
The South End Home — This is the home where much of the action of Lapham's story takes place. It represents Lapham's inability to rise socially as he rises materially. It is a home of conflict, one that all are happy to leave because of the memories it holds in connection with Silas' downfall, the sisters' love affairs, and Mrs. Lapham's inability to help her husband in his moral decision.
The Lapham Home — This farm home symbolizes Lapham's native origins. Crude and in the backwoods, it takes its pride from the traditions of pioneering Americans.
The Corey Home — Symbolic of sterile aristocracy, the Corey home is described in detail when the Laphams come in contact with it for the dinner party. It represents the grace and elegance of the Coreys which will die because of their passive attitude toward the progressive, materialistic world. It will soon be in a neighborhood of boarding houses, Howells tells the reader.
The Wood Shaving
The wood shaving curled and given to Irene as a pseudo flower is analogous to the house symbol in the main plot. Irene must rise above the materialistic values that instigated the building of the Back Bay home and sacrifice her own feelings for the good of the families. She gives the shaving to Penelope when she realizes that Tom Corey did not mean it to be a love token for her. In giving it to Penelope, she relinquishes her part in a romantic, materialistic world.
After considering the morality needed by Silas and his family with reference to the symbols which help to convey their moral position, it is necessary to look at the society that caused this moral dilemma.