Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Great Paradox

The great Paradox of The Rise of Silas Lapham: Morality verses looking out for yourself.

I was really socked in class on Tuesday when I found myself saying very contradictory things about what is morally right and ethically right. It was a struggle deciphering why I could justify one action but not the other. I agreed with the majority of the class that Silas was correct in sticking true to his morality and not selling the worthless property because he knew it was wrong, but I also thought that Penelope was justified in her decision to discount Irene’s feelings and marry Tom. I had to ask myself, why is it morally right for Lapham to take the hit to make sure that no one gets hurt and why was I encouraging Penelope to not care about her sister’s feelings?
It comes down to the systems we have created for both business and moral obligations and in the book the characters break free of the system finding their true selves. In the business world the accepted norm is “dog eat dog” meaning who cares how you treat the other person as long as you get ahead? Lapham goes takes a stand against this by refusing to be dishonest by selling the land to Rogers. He refuses to follow the business standard and in doing so he discovers his voice and true character.
With Penelope, she has always been the quiet and meek individual fitting into the system accepted for women during the 1900s. She breaks free of this and gets her voice by potentially hurting her sister and doing what she wants. The radical idea reflects some of the rights women take for granted today in our modern society. The Rise of Silas Lapham is about finding your true voice, and morally they both make the best decisions for themselves.

1 comment:

  1. If it doesn't sound too gruesome to say so, Lynette, I'll bet that Howells is smiling in his grave. Your feeling those contradictory reactions about ethics is exactly what he was trying to do with realism, especially in this novel.

    (Maybe it sounds too gruesome, but I'll say it anyway.)