Critical Essays The Rise of Silas Lapham as Tragicomedy


The Rise of Silas Lapham is neither purely tragic nor purely comic; it is both. Tragicomedy is a form derived from drama which combines tragic and comic elements. Occasionally one scene will present the comedy and the next will present tragedy, but usually they are more subtly interwoven.

One view of tragedy calls for the downfall of a better than average man through some fault of his own. The destruction of Silas as a businessman accords well with this concept, for Silas, a wealthier than average man, loses his fortune owing to his greed. Silas' moral flaw is impressed upon his soul when he forces Rogers out of the paint business. His desire to buy redemption by giving Rogers a large loan that he cannot repay leads to Silas' destruction.

Comedy, also, places its character in a situation that he must resolve; but in comedy, the character overcomes the opposing forces, and the story ends happily. Seen as the rise of Silas' moral character, The Rise of Silas Lapham can be accepted as a comedy, for Silas redeems himself by refusing to save his business in a transaction that would transfer the mills at an unfair price to the English agents. Silas has overcome the oppressing force of materialism that has nearly damned his soul and finds peace of mind back on the farm where he was born.

The interweaving of the destruction of Silas as a businessman and his rise as a humanitarian categorizes The Rise of Silas Lapham as a tragicomedy. This view of the story leads to further appreciation of the integration of its romantic and realistic elements.