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?


  1. Intriguing idea, that of having tight parameters on marriage agreements. There is no way that they could have any legal backing but sometimes it seems that we need something in place, ideally from the individuals involved and not any outside source. It seems to me though that there is no clear answer, that it's ultimately all determined by what the person values. I've read about people who didn't have that much in common but were passionate about each other so their marriage thrived. I've read about people who didn't have much passion, more of a deep friendship, but had a ton of stuff in common that they enjoyed doing so the marriage thrived.

    It's also interesting how the debate always seems to swing from one side of the pendulum to the other. We're expected to either believe that passionate love is most important or social customs, class, things of this nature are. The idea that a healthy balance between the two is not only attainable but may be the best chance for success rarely seems to be put forth.

  2. I agree with Jefferson: you raise an interesting idea, Chelsea, in wondering whether marriages should be more cautiously pursued. Of course, divorce was considered quite scandalous in the 1880s, whereas now it's commonplace, so that may be a factor, too.