The Possible Moral Debacle of a Hustle

         The question everyone ponders throughout Henry James's 1880 Washington Square and William Wyler's 1949 The Heiress, is whether Morris' (Montgomery Clift) intentions are true, or if they are riddled with shady schemes for financial gain. The book and the play/film, because of necessity, approach enlightening the audience of the character's motives and beliefs differently. The novel dwells in the subconsciousness of the characters, presented by an omniscient narrator, while the film is forced to express feelings only through actions, displayed emotions, and dialogue. This gives a different feel for each character, yet Morris, of whom little is revealed in the novel and film, remains a mystery.

         In the film, by the end, no one is left guessing. It is apparent that Morris leaves because Catherine's (Olivia de Havilland) money might not be available if the two marry. Instead of their carrying on a relationship, slowly drifting apart, until Morris gets fed up and leaves, his decision is instantaneous, and Catherine's heart is broken. This tactic is more dramatic, and thus more appropriate for film; but there are questions remaining. Would it really be that bad for the two of them to have gotten married? Is it relevant that Morris desires a high level of financial stability? Can a hustle form a symbiotic relationship, void of deceit and malicious intent? My answers are no, yes, and yes.

         The word "hustle" has both negative and positive connotations. It can be "an act or scheme involving deceit," or a "personal aggressive initiative" (Encarta Dictionary). Morris was hustling either way. He was looking for marriage, he was pursuing Catherine at all costs, but at no time was he immoral, cruel, or insulting--unlike her father. Even if he was after the money, it does not change the way Catherine was reacting to his advances, it does not change her feelings for him, the only thing that made her heart grow cold, was that he left. It is my belief that had they indeed married, their relationship would have been solid, even if it had been based on personal gain for either party. Readers and viewers should not dismiss the fact that Catherine was achieving a goal herself. She desired accompaniment, partnership, and as she says, he talks to her, shows interest, is very handsome, and might be her only chance at marriage.

         Whenever a relationship is begun, it lasts because one party fulfills the needs of the other. Morris did not sleep around; he did not cheat; he did not insult Catherine or possess reserved contempt for her as others did; his only fault was appreciation of the finer things in life. It has been said that one cannot trust anybody, but one can trust people to do what it is in their nature to do. For Morris, he might have been greedy, but it did not make him an evil and manipulative man. Instead he was patient and devoted. Is it wrong then that each party is looking to the other for selfish reasons if there is no maliciousness brewing inside? They could have married, they could have been happy, and they both could have obtained that which they most cared about. What else is there to achieve?

Taylor Sutton

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