An Heiress or a Spoiled Brat

     One thing which stood out most for me in both the 1880 novel Washington Square, by Henry James, and the 1949 film The Heiress, directed by William Wyler, was the coldness Catherine treated her father with after Morris left. I have tried and tried to place myself in her shoes and still cannot conclude how she could be so cold.

     In a sense, the harshness of her father, played by Ralph Richardson, was good. It helped to keep Catherine, played by Olivia de Havilland, from making a mistake which would affect the rest of her life. It is not as if she had been kicked out of her home and forced to live on her own. Her father did care for her in his own way.

     Throughout the novel and the film, it was quite clear that Dr. Sloper was a rather unappreciative man, and it was also clear that Catherine had a high level of respect for him early on. What I do not understand is how she could go from one amount of respect for her father, even when he seemed to treat her so coldly, to having no respect for her father just because he revealed the unattractive side of Morris, played by Montgomery Clift.

     It is almost as if the sweet, little Catherine was just a little too adapted to getting everything she wanted. For once her father told her how he felt and made it quiet clear he strongly did not agree with her decisions and she completely cuts her father off.

     I could see Catherine holding some amount of a grudge against him for holding such high expectations for her, but to completely ignore one's father while he is on his deathbed as de Havilland's character did in the film, seems unimaginable for me. In both the novel and the film, Catherine was extremely cold to her father after he realized he was going to die.

     Throughout my life of twenty years, I have learned to have respect for those I do not really like or even agree with on most things. One thing I could not fathom doing is to completely shut out the one person who had raised me for most of my life. With the help of Dr. Sloper's sister, he tried to mold Catherine into an intelligent young women who would be able to succeed in that particular society. Yes, he was cold and unattached to her, but he provided for her. He made sure she was well cared for. He allowed her to make mistakes, and I have always felt a person learns from his or her own mistakes.

     Throughout my life, I have been well provided for. I have been given opportunities to do many things. Each time I make a mistake, my family stands beside me and pushes me on. My family helps me learn from my own mistakes without breathing down my neck and reminding me of what I am doing wrong.

     I feel Dr. Sloper has helped Catherine in more ways than she would ever realize. He instilled rather good morals into her, and now it was just a matter of her taking what she had learned and using it in everyday life.

Kimberli DeRossett

Table of Contents