Although I found The Rise of Silas Lapham a slow read, I found myself interested in its look at the heaving American business atmosphere and, again, how that intertwined with social aspects of the time. For me, the more I like a book (the more profound I find it), the slower I read it. There was a sharpness and consistent meaning in Howells’ words that requires subtle examination rather than plot overview. His humor was obviously a product of its underlying truth in the aimlessness (or maybe just speculative aim) of American ambition.
President Calvin Coolidge said, “The business of America is business.” The Rise of Silas Lapham seems to me an earlier portrayal of this sense and value, since Coolidge made that statement in the 1920s. Unlike most our previous readings, this work looked directly at the business, the wild, initially unstoppable prosperity and the relative sensitivity to decline that marked America as a ruthless business enterprise region. The book shows the interlocking rise and fall of Silas’ business and personal life, breaking the ideas of a separation between public and private pursuits. And then the moral issues that follow are indicative of this forming relationship that is not so straightforward and clean, causing conflict between the two sectors of individual humanity, one’s morals/ethics/practices and how those can be entirely different when in a personal as opposed to a business light.
Since this course is titled after the identity struggle in America, I can’t help but think this was one of the most encompassing and difficult texts exploring the lack of defined American practice and the individual conflicts that resulted, the financial re-defining of values that was one of the most common and pressing aspects of American lives.