Summary and Analysis Chapter V



Tom returns home to find his father, Bromfield Corey, home alone while his wife and daughters are at the seashore for the summer. They discuss Tom's desire to do something. Bromfield suggests marriage, but Tom does not regard it as an occupation. Bromfield goes on to suggest that Tom fall in love with a rich girl. Tom does not see how a poor girl would differ from a rich girl whose parents have not been wealthy long enough to give her position. Bromfield agrees that it is the age when the quickly rich are suddenly on the same level with the Coreys.

Howells relates that Bromfield was a painter who traveled to Rome, painted, and lived off his father. He made money only painting portraits, but, since he was wealthy, "It was absurd," Howells tells us, "for him to paint portraits for pay and ridiculous to paint them for nothing; so he did not paint them at all." Instead, Bromfield lived a life of seclusion, occasionally expounding on the theories of painting rather than practicing them.

The chapter ends with a few words between Mr. and Mrs. Lapham concerning Tom. "If I had that fellow in the business with me, I would make a man of him," Silas says.

"Do you suppose a fellow like young Corey, brought up the way he's been, would touch mineral paint with a ten-foot pole?" Mrs. Lapham jeers.

"Why not?" Silas haughtily replies.


Tom's need for something to do, his father's avoidance of work, and Lapham's desire to make a man of Tom are clearly predictions of Tom's position with Lapham's business. His father has nothing to suggest, whereas Lapham has a prosperous business to offer.

Tom's comment that a rich girl would be no better than a poor girl if she did not have position is ironic, because, despite his ideal of marrying a socially acceptable rich girl, he marries Penelope, who is neither socially acceptable nor rich after her father's financial downfall.