Could Catherine Sloper Be Happy?

         The poll taken in class showed an overwhelming opinion that Catherine did the right thing in The Heiress, directed in 1949 by William Wyler and based on Henry James's 1880 Washington Square, by not taking Morris (played by Montgomery Clift) back. Although, Catherine (depicted by Olivia de Havilland) looks satisfied as she valiantly climbs the stars at the end, I think there could be a small part of her that wonders if she could be happy with him after all.

         During the middle of the film, when Catherine is becoming more and more comfortable with Morris, the viewers can see the potential she has to being a strong and self-assured woman. I would argue that there is a chance that she could have been that same woman with Morris when he returned to her.

         Catherine begins defying her father while in Europe, which proves to be the turning point for Catherine's character. Even though she and her father (portrayed by Ralph Richardson) do not talk about Morris for the majority of the trip, Catherine is on to his mind game and stays not only loyal to Morris but also increasingly disloyal to her father.

         Finally, when Catherine will not yield to her father's wish to have her promise not to ever marry Morris after he dies, we learn that her transformation is complete. She has inherited her family's stubbornness and she no longer relies on anyone but herself. It is because of this transformation she goes through on her own that I think Catherine could be happy with Morris. She would no longer be the girl so blindly in love that she would throw her money into his waiting hands. She sees the importance of a job and I do not think she would just let Morris live off of her.

         She has to still care for the man, at least for the man that she fell in love with. Although usually a couple gets to grow old together and accept the changes open heartily, I think the two could slowly come to appreciate each other's changes. It would be just as challenging for Morris to get used to Catherine's new attitude as it would be for Catherine to get over what he did to her the first time.

         I think that Catherine got her revenge in the film, The Heiress, but I am not convinced that she is completely happy with her decision. I think there are a few "what if's" running through her head as she makes that bold climb up the stairs. I think she knows she could have been happy with him too, but the need for revenge got in her way of happiness.

Elizabeth Fields

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