Dr. Sloper and Morris: The Battle for Catherine

     The 1880 book Washington Square, by Henry James, filmed as The Heiress in 1949 by William Wyler, contains two characters who try to gain control of Catherine. Both have control of her at different points in the book, but at the end she manages to break free of them both.

     Morris (Montgomery Clift) gains power over Catherine (Olivia de Havilland) by playing with her emotions. With a little bit of smooth-talking he makes her believe that he is in love with her. After only a few days she falls in love with him. Morris is able to manipulate her very easily. He is even capable of making Catherine defy her father's (Ralph Richardson) orders. By allowing Catherine to feel that she is loved, he gains the ability to exploit her emotions.

     Dr. Sloper has been the single controlling force in Catherine's life. She feels that she needs to please him. To do so she will do almost everything in her power. Because she feels that she must keep him happy, he does not have a hard time making her listen to him. The control that he has over her goes unmatched until her love for Morris begins to develop. Even as she starts to follow Morris, it is difficult for her to go against her father's will.

     For a long time Catherine goes back and forth between Morris and Dr. Sloper. As she pleases one, she only manages to upset the other. Like any other person, Catherine can only stand this arrangement for so long. She soon realizes that Morris does not truly love her. At the same time she grows tired of the way her father treats her. After trying to please them both for a long period of time, she gives up on them and focuses on herself. She will no longer agree to what her father says and she does not allow Morris to manipulate her anymore.

     Early on Catherine believes that she must listen to both Morris and Dr. Sloper. She does as her father tells her because of her need to please him, and she does as Morris tells her because of her need for his love. She finally grasps the fact that neither of them truly love her. Once she reaches this point, she no longer cares for the two of them.

Grant Apanowicz

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