Motivation of Immorality in The Rise of Silas Lapham and The Octopus
In both William Dean Howells' The Rise of Silas Lapham and The Octopus by Frank Norris, a character is faced with the moral issues involved with operating his business. Howells' character, Silas Lapham (The Colonel) and Norris' Magnus Derrick are both desirous to have a prominent position in their respective societies, but are in the precarious situation of having to deploy immoral methods to achieve this coveted stature during the course of harder times. Each man has aspirations to be powerful, prestigious, famous, and/or wealthy. In combination with their lack of humility for their lofty position in society and their over ambitious definition of success, both are caused great distress on the path and during the fight to reach this egotistic plateau. The image created through their business venture became the primary tool to evaluate their own personal vision of success, and in doing so, the two men's morals and values became tainted, family relations were hurt and even devastated, in addition to creating social debacles that caused incredible harm to many others.
Silas' background consisted of poverty, hardships, and hard work. He acquired his own wealth and that opened doors that were unknown to him or his family. The Colonel's background and attributes led him into an awkward situation of always attempting to appear in society as something that he is not. He is a common, vulgar man, doing his best to appear sophisticated, educated, and knowledgeable, when, in fact, it is only his wealth that connects him to the upper class. His incredible wealth places within him the motivation and false sense of obligation to conform to the tastes and preferences of high culture. His idea of success is to be recognized as someone who not only owns and runs a thriving business, but also is a refined man with knowledge of high culture. He desires acceptance as an equal to the socially distinguished Boston family, the Coreys. It is only through the money made from his mineral paint business that lends him the chance to associate with such families.
Silas' rise from poverty was not fully morally sound though, notwithstanding the fact that the product he made his money with was one that was virtually handed to him and that sold itself. In spite of these facts, at an earlier stage in the business, Silas had taken up a partner, Mr. Rogers, to help him financially, and then forced him out before he could make any profit. This move appears to be the first immoral business choice in the career of Silas Lapham. It forces him to be dishonest not only to himself, but to his wife, by driving him to lie about and cover up his inner feelings about what he had done. Although he states that he has a clear conscience concerning the whole affair, he cannot so much as speak directly to the man during a chance meeting on the street. He shies away from the awkward situation entirely,...