Summary and Analysis
Mrs. Corey decides that a dinner including only close friends and relatives would be large enough to make the Laphams know that they are not ashamed of them and close enough to the Corey family to make the dinner insignificant to society. She tells Tom of the modest dinner party she has planned, and he realizes that his mother suspects the possibility of a romance deserving an appropriate dinner. He asks her not to give the party, but the invitations have been sent.
Mrs. Lapham worries about how she will answer the invitation, how she will dress, and, most important, how her family will find something to talk about. Silas decides he must buy his first dress coat and debates over the need for gloves. Penelope refuses to go, believing it is a recognition dinner for Irene. She cries after they leave, revealing her disappointment in her inability to be attractive like Irene. She also feels badly because, as it is later revealed, she is attracted to Tom.
Ironically, this insignificant dinner will be one of the most crucial events in the novel. Its effect on Silas' social position will be seen in the next chapter. Mrs. Lapham predicts the impending disaster when she worries over what they will talk about. Peneldpe's absence and her sobs as they leave are significant, for the dinner will begin a chain of events that will lead to Tom Corey's declaration of love for her. Tom will see the Lapham's need for help in their social position; he will confess his love in order to aid the Laphams in finding a place in society.