Revenge Is Bittersweet

         Throughout life there are many choices one must make. Some choices are good, while others are bad; and it seems that, as much as one wants to make the good choice, the bad choice can be much more appealing. There are many ways to contrast the 1949 film The Heiress to Henry James’s 1880 novel, Washington Square. Perhaps the most significant difference between the two comes at the very end when Catherine Sloper (Olivia de Havilland) must choose how to deal with Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift).

         In James’s Washington Square, Catherine Sloper takes the high road when it comes to rejecting Morris’ proposal to be with him after his years of absence. As much as he begs and begs, she is firm in her response that they will not be together and she will not love him again. Catherine tells Morris never to return, that he is not welcome, and that they shall never be friends. Despite his pleading, she never backs down. He has hurt her too deeply, and she is not afraid to make him aware of that. She is honest and firm with him.

         In stark contrast, Catherine sinks to Morris’ level in The Heiress. When he first arrives, she rejects him; but, as he pleads with her, she begins to change her demeanor. She tells Morris that she still loves him and that she wants to be with him. She tricks him into believing that she will take him back. As he goes to gather his things, Catherine has the door to her home locked so that upon his return, he is left to stand outside, begging and screaming for her to let him in. She fools him just as he did her. It is as if she wishes to inflict the same pain in him that he inflicted on her. Catherine becomes and entirely different character.

         Even though the film ending was much more dramatic and exciting, the morally just decision that Catherine makes in the novel is much more appropriate. Of course the idea of revenge is sweet, but is it Catherine’s true character? Despite her being hardened by her broken heart, the Catherine that I know would not have sunk to the level of the conniving Morris Townsend.

Michelle Farney

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