Washington Square Essay, Research Paper
One of the major themes in Washington Square is a theme of failure, failure of characters and failure of relationships between characters. Austin Sloper is a failure from the very beginning because he failed to produce a daughter he could be proud of. In the end, Catherine does not follow Dr. Sloper’s orders and thus he fails in his control of his daughter. Similarly, Morris’s only chance to succeed would be to marry a rich girl. However, he fails in doing so. The war between Dr. Sloper and Morris Townsend with Catherine caught in the middle destroys both men. Therefore, in the end of the book the justice is done: although Catherine is not innocent and happy girl as she used to be, she is the one who ultimately comes out as a winner.From the very beginning of the book, Henry James portrays Dr. Sloper as a man who, although seemingly successful, is essentially a failure. Austin Sloper is a doctor, he saves strangers, but he failed to save his own wife and son. “For a man whose trade was to keep people alive he had certainly done poorly in his own family” (p. 7). In addition, Dr. Sloper fails to produce a daughter he could be proud of. “Dr. Sloper would liked to be proud of his daughter; but there was nothing to be proud of in poor Catherine.” (p. 12)Thus, Dr. Sloper’s relationship with his daughter was predestined to fail from the very beginning. The only thing that kept the father and the daughter together was Catherine’s innocence. At the beginning Catherine does not understand her father’s attitude toward her. “She was extremely fond of her father Her deepest desire was to please him, and her conception of happiness was to know that she had succeeded in pleasing him” (p. 12).As the story progresses, though, Dr. Sloper’s attitude toward Catherine becomes more and more apparent to her. In his hatred for Morris Townsend and his stubborn resistance to Catherine marrying Morris, Austin’s mask is falling. Catherine realizes that her father opposes the marriage because of his stubbornness and not because of his caring for her. “He is not very fond of me. You can tell when a person speaks to you as if they despised you!” (p.132) Upon this realization, Catherine stops being the innocent girl she used to be. She resists being used by her father like she was used earlier. In the end she fails her father when she refuses to promise she won’t marry Morris. “All her feelings were merged in the sense that he was trying to treat her as he had treated her years before. She had suffered from it then; and now all her experience, all her acquired tranquillity and rigidity protested” (p.168). Thus, Doctor Sloper dies as a loser – he dies thinking that Catherine will marry Morris – the thing he tried to prevent as much as he could.
Similar to Doctor Sloper, from the very beginning of the book Morris Townsend is pictured as a failure. He does not work, “he inherited a small property and spend it all in a few years” (p.35). Morris’s only hope for success in life is to marry a wealthy girl like Catherine Sloper. “The position of husband of a weak-minded woman with a large fortune would suit him to perfection” (p. 46). However, Morris’s designs are contrary to plans of Dr. Sloper. Consequently, the war between Morris Townsend and Dr. Sloper arises in which Catherine is held captive. Austin Sloper does not give up and refuses to give Catherine money if she marries Morris Townsend. Thus, Morris Townsend loses in his venture for Catherine’s money. He wouldn’t settle for ten thousand she had inherited from her mother. “He had a perfectly definite appreciation of his value, which seemed to him inadequately represented by the sum I have mentioned” (p. 110).However, Morris Townsend loses not just to Dr. Sloper, but also to Catherine. When he comes back to New York some years later, “bald and fat” and without a wealthy wife, Catherine turns him down. “I [Catherine] can’t forget – I don’t forget. You treated me too badly. I felt it very much; I felt it for years. I can’t begin again – I can’t take it up. Everything is dead and buried” (p. 179).As you can see, both Austin Sloper and Morris Townsend failed in their dreams and goals. The only person who comes out as a winner is Catherine Sloper. However, what is the price of her victory? “From her own point of view the great facts of her carrier were that Morris Townsend had trifled with her affection, and that her father had broken its spring. Nothing could ever alter these facts; they were always there, like her name, her age, her plain face” (p. 165). Therefore, Catherine Sloper paid a big price for her victory – her innocence, her love for her father, her love for Morris. However, she is the one who comes out as a stronger and wiser person, while clever Dr. Sloper and Morris Townsend fail in their pursuits.