3 of 5 stars to The Rise of Silas Lapham by William Dean Howells. Most of the works of literature that made up the canon during the late nineteenth century were classified as realistic literature. These realistic works resembled life as realistically as possible, ranging from youthful adventures in the South, to small town gossip of a few central families and to morals vs. business in Bostonian society. In Howell’s novel The Rise of Silas Lapham, Silas and his family moved from their farm in Vermont to the city of Boston where Silas hoped to continue making it big in the paint business. Throughout the time that he was earning all of his money and trying to settle in the elitist class of Boston society, Silas continually lost his morals and ethics. While Silas’ loss of morals was parallel with his rise in wealth, his gain in morals was parallel with his loss of wealth. All of these aspects of American life at this time were “infused with a moral purpose which transformed society, sometimes for good, but also for evil.” The moral purpose/guide in Silas’ case was his wife, Persis Lapham, who constantly reminded her husband that his greed was overcoming him. Persis wisely said to Silas, “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” (IV, 47). Silas’ moral decline and Persis’ recognition of this was evident amongst people of similar nature in society of the late nineteenth century. Society at this time was sometimes holistic, but it was also dirty. When society was preserved, the baser aspects of human life were overcome with reason.” Yet, it was not uncommon for morals to come and go during this time, better known as the Gilded Age. It may have seemed all golden and wonderful on the outside amongst the people (Silas’ wealth in The Rise of Silas Lapham), but on the inside (Silas’ wasn’t really accepted into Brahmin society) it was a cheap version of the truth; every aspect of human life was corrupted, and reason was lost without the establishment of an honest society. Silas’ greed is a representation of the life and times of the many [wo]men who lived in the realistic period. Everything was about keeping up appearances, but there was never anything to back up the facade that was put on. There was no straight black and white; shades of gray and murky ethics dominated during this period of realism known historically as The Gilded Age.
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