Silas Lapham is introduced to the story through an interview with Bartley Hubbard, a journalist. The conversation explains a lot about Silas’ role in society and his views on his societal standing. Naïve yet good at heart, he is proud of the money, which his new business has earned him.
The novel depicts two different aspects of Silas’ life. As much as his family was happy, his business was failing and the politics behind it were rather crude. The Lapham family used to live on their New England farm until they moved to Boston. The family includes Silas’ wife, Persis, the elder daughter, Penelope, and Irene, younger sibling to Penelope. In terms of personality, Penelope was well rounded and calm minded while Irene was frivolous, boastful of her beauty and emotional, to say the least. It was their newfound money that had incentivized the move to Boston, thus they have yet to understand proper etiquette and mannerism.
Silas, now, is seen persuading his wife to agree on building their house on Beacon Street because that is the most normal place for people to build houses in order to integrate into high society. He eventually finds an architect, who is seen evidently manipulating Silas into spending a huge amount of money.
Persis and Silas, on their way to check on the house under construction, come across Mr. Rogers, the man who was formerly a partner to Silas and had provided the initial investment to start his business. The man was eventually dropped from the business. Persis then proceeded to remind Silas of his not-so-clean past and declared that she would not visit the house because it is being built with ‘blood money.’
A short explanation mentions how the Laphams’ marriage was about to fall apart when their son departed prematurely and Silas was called to war. But, rejuvenated after the war, Silas made a fresh start in both his family life and his livelihood in the form of his new business associated with paint.
Upon taking his daughters to the construction site on Beacon Street, Silas meets a young man by the name of Tom Corey. The young man belonged to a rich family from Boston, but he was rather taken aback by the siblings. Silas then displayed the attitude of a workingman that has remained despite the new money and declared that he could make Tom a man under his tutelage if he wishes to stop living off his parents’ wealth. Irene somewhat becomes interested in Tom in a romantic sense.
The Coreys are then introduced into the fray, a family who are not new to money and are accustomed to spending it properly, contrary to the Laphams. Bromfield, Toms’ father, wants Tom to marry into a wealthy family while Tom emphasizes on the significance of love over money. Soon, Tom lets the family know about his plan to work, which is eventually agreed to by his father, but not his mother.
Tom is now seen giving an interview to Silas, which drags on for long enough for Silas to take him to his house. Tom became very interested in the paint business and even offered to promote paint to European nations with his proficiency in their language. Silas was happy to see Tom becoming more intimate with the Laphams. But, Persis tells Silas that if he plans for Tom to wed Irene, he should not let Tom into the paint industry.
Despite the reluctance expressed by Mrs. Corey who was rather against Toms’ interaction with Irene, Tom began working for Silas. And he rather enjoyed the freedom as well as the favorable work conditions. On one such workday, he saw Silas acting suspiciously with Zuerilla Millon and confirmed with a typist about how Silas acts overzealous around her. It won’t be mentioned until later but Zuerilla belongs to the family of Silas’ lifelong benefactor and Silas owes a great debt to him.
Silas, who became rather pleased to see Tom working for him, slowly gets the idea in his head that his family is as good as Bromfields’. This is rather strengthened when Tom and Irene interact, leading Irene to believe that Tom is showing signs of attraction. She tells Penelope and the fact becomes evident that her interest in Tom is only growing as time passes.
Silas starts spending tremendous amounts of money on the house on Beacon Street, which displeases Persis. Not to mention, she thinks Silas is too focused on wedding Tom into the Lapham family. Silas even lends money to his former business associate Mr. Rogers. In the meantime, the siblings talks Tom’s father into visiting Silas, which ended up with Silas acting braggadocios and offending Bromfield by talking down to him.
After he falls ill, Silas cannot go to his workplace, and this encourages a visit from Tom who inquires about his health. Obliged, Tom has to see and interact with Irene. Persis inquires of Penelope as to whether or not Tom even talked about Irene to her, which is answered with ignorance from the older daughter.
The Corey family also has two daughters by the name of Corey and Nanny, who along with their mother, come back to Boston in autumn. To learn more about the Lapham family, who might become their new relatives, the girls convince their mother to invite Mrs. Lapham, Irene and Penelope over. Due to their obvious lack of social etiquette, the guests repulse the Corey family. And, as Penelope later explains, “Mrs. Corey looked at her as if she had bought her, and thought she paid too much”.
Despite Tom’s insistence on a small dinner, the Corey family plans a big dinner party. Receiving the invitation, Silas felt anxious over a lot of things including what to wear, how to talk, whether to put on gloves or not and so on. Silas reads quite a number of books on etiquettes. Penelope, who is convinced that it is a dinner to unravel the scene of Irene as Toms’ soon to be wife, refuses to go.
Upon arriving on the dinner party, Silas realizes how absurd and alienated his hands look with gloves when not a single person has worn gloves to this party. This leads to him getting nervous (on top of other things) and causes him to drink more at the dinner table. And, he gets drunk, a first in his long life. Bromfield, who led the dinner party small talks, talked about art, poverty and criticized the novel Idle Tears, romantic in nature. Silas, who is not accustomed to such conversation, sees an opportunity when the women leave and he drinks even more. At one point, he begins talking about his days in the war and the chronicles that followed, as well as also about his paint business.
Silas grovels and apologizes to Tom, an act that garnered him both repulsion and sympathy. Tom then finds Penelope and explains to her what she could not hear at the dinner, including the romantic novel. The novel depicts a love triangle, which she could relate to as Tom reveals his affection towards Penelope, who then tells Tom to never speak of this again, asking him to depart.
Persis learns of Toms’ recent interaction with Penelope. Despite Penelope’s consideration for Irene, Persis chooses to consult Silas, who then wants Tom and Penelope to marry at the earliest. Persis, however, reprimands Silas for being too focused on building family connections over his daughters’ well being. But Irene, upon learning the truth from her mother, gives all of Tom’s mementos to Penelope and goes away to get over her broken heart.
Tom is surprised by the fact that everyone had assumed that he liked Irene and pleads with Penelope to recognize his advances, which is met with denial from the older Lapham daughter. In the meantime, Rogers buys land that had had constructed mills on it with the money taken from Silas; mills, which are useless now. This puts Silas in a lot of debt.
Amongst other things, the Corey family learns of Toms’ infatuation with Penelope and they accept it at one point, considering how sensible Penelope is.
Silas and Penelope start thinking about how to get out of this predicament and sit over logistics and accounts. However, transactions to Mrs. M were all out of the order. Persis finds those transactions and confronts Silas, who refuses to say anything since Mrs. M is the daughter of the man who saved his life.
Lapham gets offers for both the mills and the house built on Beacon Street. But, his conscience doesn’t let him sell the mills wrongly. Soon, his house caught on fire, roughly seven days after the insurance stopped covering. A series of misfortunes leads to him looking at other options like joining the West Virginia paint company. But, the demands for investment can only be met with by selling the mills to businessmen wrongly, a deed Silas is adamantly against. With Rogers claiming that Silas ruined his life, he decides to move back to their farm.
Refusing Tom’s loan, Silas sells his mines off to West Virginia Company and starts dealing with high-quality paint. Penelope and Tom get married and move to Mexico for the paint business. And the Lapham family goes back to their farm on Vermont and lives on.