Of all the characters who undergo change in The Rise of Silas Lapham, Lapham's change is the only one looked upon in a positive light by the narrator. William Dean Howells uses the corruption of other characters to promote Lapham's newfound morality and reinforce his ultimate triumph. Before Lapham's financial ruin, he is the only character with fault. Yet as his world crumbles, so does the credibility and innocence of his wife, two daughters, and former partner, Mr. Rogers. At the same time, the very catalyst of Lapham's ruin exonerates him. This allows Howells to reinforce Lapham's ultimate rise in the novel, despite his financial and social failures.
While Silas Lapham's character shines of perfect success in the book's opening interview, we soon learn of the fault that will lead to his ruin. In a time when his company needed help, Lapham used Mr. Rogers for his capital, then pushed him out of the company once back on his feet. Mrs. Lapham holds the strongest position towards Silas' treatment of Mr. Rogers:
"No; you had better face the truth, Silas. It was no chance at all. You crowded him out. A man that had saved you! No, you had got greedy, Silas. You had made your paint your god, and you couldn't bear to let anybody else share in its blessings."(45)
She believes that his treatment of Rogers is the only fault in his character, and is satisfied when he finally makes good on it by lending money to Rogers when asked. Despite his efforts to resolve the matter, Lapham refuses to admit his guilt. But the narrator tells us he is guilty*, and Silas admits feeling relieved after working it out: "'Well, I don't know when it's done me so much ...
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...ng Lapham's upward motion cannot be accidental. Lapham needed his wife to nag at him about Rogers, and needed Rogers to be a "rascal" to start the events which lead to his rise. Lapham needed his daughters' distraction to ensure his lack of support and need for complete self-sufficiency during his hardships, as well as its incorporation of the Corey family to justify his involvement and failure with "society." Howells creates a plot in which Lapham figuratively steps on the other characters in order to rise.
Works Cited and Consulted
Carter, Everett. Howells and the Age of Realism. Hamden, Conn.: Arcton Books, 1966
Howells, William Dean. The Rise of Silas Lapham. 1885. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1988
Van Wyck, Brooks. Howells His Life and World. Dutton, 1959.
Wagenknecht, Edward. W.D. Howells The Friendly Eye. New York: Oxford University Press, 1969
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