Complete Transformation

Though I will not say that Henry James's 1880 Washington Square is one of my favorite books of all time, there was something about William Wyler's 1949 movie The Heiress that intrigued me. The transformation that the character Catherine Sloper, as played by Olivia de Havilland, goes through is just amazing. Throughout the course of the movie we see a nave, young, and almost dumb, girl transform into a strong, independent woman who appears to not be afraid of anything.

In the beginning of the movie, one might get the idea that Catherine Sloper has the mentality of a ten year old. She is dreadfully unaware of what is truly happening before her eyes. She is a very wealthy young woman and does not understand the concept that some people might like her for that reason only. When a charming man of the name of Morris (Montgomery Clift) is starts showing interest in her, she believes him when he tells her he has fallen deeply in love with her over a week's time. The people around her, including her aunt (Miriam Hopkins) and her father (Ralph Richardson), can clearly see his true motives, however. When Catherine is confronted with this information, instead of rationally analyzing the situation as an adult would, she refuses to believe it and persists even more in her belief that Morris loves her for herself.

The turning point in the movie, and also in Catherine Sloper's life, occurs when Morris stands her up on their elopement night because he finds out that she will no longer have her inheritance money if he marries her. After this happens, Catherine completely changes. She does not hear from Morris for years, and her father dies, both of these things, along with others, contributing to her maturation. Her transformation is apparent when one lonely night her aunt comes to tell her Morris is back and that he still loves her and wants to marry her. At first she refuses to see him; but, when she hears his voice, she obtains a mysterious look in her gleaming eyes and asks him to come in. He professes his love for her once again and insists that they be married. Oddly, Catherine suggests that they elope that very night and tells him to come back to get her as soon as possible. He rushes out and Catherine continues to sew while her aunt stares on in amazement. When Morris returns, she eerily, but calmly turns out the lights and has her maid bolt the door. My favorite part of the entire movie comes when she turns her back on Morris and continues her quest up the stairs.

This last scene depicts what a monstrous change has occurred in Catherine over the years. She has gained the courage and wisdom to do what is best of her and no longer needs to believe false compliments of others in order to survive. When her aunt tells her she has better things to do than sew while she is waiting for Morris, she replies, "I have indeed. I can do anything now!" She has overcome all of her childhood apprehensions and no longer relies on the actions of other people to live her life. Though she did not lead a very glamorous or even easy life, the challenges she overcame made her a much stronger person.

Natalie Bringham

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