Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Does progression mean digression?

I have conceded that William Dean Howells has succeeded in writing a masterpiece. Although I do not necessarily find a great deal of interest in that matters which his book, The Rise of Silas Lapham, imposes on the reader, namely business ethics and success, I do feel the functionalities of family traditions and social stigmas quite interesting in this book.

In today's world, there is a great deal less thought put toward social status of individuals getting married; in essence, the matter has become almost solely dependent upon the couples feelings toward one another and decision to be wed. Yet, as Howell portrays, marriage used to be a matter that was much more concerning to a family unit. Social status, manners, and wealth were all very important subjects when creating marriage ties between families. Even as Tom and Pen are negotiating their marriage agreement, Tom notes that "We have our ways, and you have yours; and while I don't say but what you and my mother and sister would be a little strange together at first, it would soon wear off on both sides" (356). Ultimately, this conversation attributes to the idea that marriage is a matter of social customs and classes, and without a similar match, controversy can arise. In today's world, this scenario rarely, if ever comes into great effect when marriage is purposed, though money is still a matter of importance.

Ultimately, The Rise of Silas Lapham is a book that vividly depicts the progress our society has made since the time of Howells. Not only has our world become infatuated with equality and commonality, but removed any stigma which suggests a hierarchy of individuals in society. A poor individual is no less qualified to marry a rich individual than two wealthy citizens are one another. Yet, statistics have suggested that marriages have a higher likelihood of ending in divorce than previous to this day and age. I wonder, were the citizens of Howells time right by inflicting tight parameters on marriage agreements? Should marriage be more cautiously pursued between two "loving" individuals as in Howell's time?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Silas Lapham's Daughters

I must admit, as I began reading Silas Lapham, I found little to no interest in the plot. While I find it exceedingly exciting to see an individual improve his conditions by working hard to become a prosperous business man, I do not see it extremely exciting to read about. The book seemed to drag on for nearly 30 (or so) pages, until Lapham's daughters were introduced. Much like Jane Austen's classic, Pride and Prejudice, Howell's book seems to have much to say in it's underlying plot about marriage and status.
Lapham's two daughters, Irene and "Pen", are both nice girls from an honest family, yet, they are exceedingly different. Irene is a girl who is categorized mainly by her looks and flirtatious charisma, while Pen is characterized by her intelligence and witty humor. Essentially both are well bred girls, just with different mannerisms.
As the novel progresses, it becomes evident that Pen, in her loud and boisterous character, seems to be elevated above her younger sister. She carries on all the conversations, reads and stays informed on knowledge a great deal, and is portrayed as a great catch for any man to marry. Irene, on the other hand, is portrayed as simple, yet, very pretty.
What I find most interesting about this situation is that, while this novel was written not far from a time when women were expected to be shy and simple, it elevated the bold and independent characteristics of Pen; not only does she seem to have the most personality, but also most eligible for marriage to the handsome and rich Tom Corey. Even Mrs. Lapham states that "[Tom] hasn't fallen in love with Irene at all. If he had, it wouldn't matter about the intellect" (124). The foundation of the novel seems to be built on the idea that intelligent and individualistic women are to be sought after, and a meek girl with beautiful complexion is a simplistic luxury which will fade in time.
While I have not yet finished the novel, I look forward to seeing how this situation unfolds and, ultimately, who Tom Corey chooses to take interest in...i predict he will choose brains over beauty.