In both William Dean Howells' The Rise of Silas Lapham and The Octopus by Frank Norris, a character is faced with the moral issues involved with operating his business. Howells' character, Silas Lapham (The Colonel) and Norris' Magnus Derrick are both desirous to have a prominent position in their respective societies, but are in the precarious situation of having to deploy immoral methods to achieve this coveted stature during the course of harder times. Each man has aspirations to be powerful, prestigious, famous, and/or wealthy. In combination with their lack of humility for their lofty position in society and their over ambitious definition of success, both are caused great distress on the path and during the fight to reach this egotistic plateau. The image created through their business venture became the primary tool to evaluate their own personal vision of success, and in doing so, the two men's morals and values became tainted, family relations were hurt and even devastated, in addition to creating social debacles that caused incredible harm to many others.
Silas' background consisted of poverty, hardships, and hard work. He acquired his own wealth and that opened doors that were unknown to him or his family. The Colonel's background and attributes led him into an awkward situation of always attempting to appear in society as something that he is not. He is a common, vulgar man, doing his best to appear sophisticated, educated, and knowledgeable, when, in fact, it is only his wealth that connects him to the upper class. His incredible wealth places within him the motivation and false sense of obligation to conform to the tastes and pre...
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... or power or fame. The path to attain these goals is often filled with corruption, heartless doings, and unsympathetic forces. To see past material possessions and to crush one's ego and its self-centeredness should be sought. To accept one's lot in life and attempt to not control forces outside of one's power or nature should be admired. Being concerned with one's family as a primary responsibility and acting accordingly should be hailed an accomplishment. To face an evil force sweeping into one's reality and being able to hold onto one's morals and values in spite of it, an achievement.
Howells, William Dean. The Rise of Silas Lapham. New York: Signet Classic, 1983..
Marx, Karl. "The Alienation of Labor." Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. Richard Hooker, 1996: 1-9.
Norris, Frank. The Octopus. New York: Penguin Books, 1986.
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