A Fatherís Disappointment in his Daughter

        We all know that, in certain instants, a future mother may die while giving birth to her baby child. We know that this is true, and that there are medical explanations to help us understand what happened. As a physician, Dr. Sloper should have known that the fact that his wife died while giving birth did not mean that she died because she gave birth.

        In The Heiress (1949), directed by William Wyler and based on Henry James's 1880 Washington Square, Dr. Sloper, played by Ralph Richardson, obviously despises his daughter, Catherine, depicted by Olivia de Havilland. He "knows" his daughter will remain unwed and hopeless for the rest of her life because she has no talents and no special traits. That was the main argument to his fight against her being with Morris Townsend, portrayed by Montgomery Clift, because there was no way that he could love Catherine since there was nothing she had that made her loveable. Now, I know that it is the parents' job to worry about their children, to ensure that they make the right decisions in life after their parents leave this world. But, because of the way he acted, it was not Catherine he was trying to protect: it was his own name he wanted to keep safe. In his mind, Morris would take all Catherine's money and leave her somewhere; and, that would make him look like a fool as well as Catherine. That fact, I think, was more important to Dr. Sloper than his own daughter's happiness.

        It all goes to Dr. Sloper blaming Catherine for his wife's death that he feels that nothing good will ever come to her. I guess he felt that, since he was forced to live the rest of his life alone, he would make his daughter live the same with him to allow her a chance to make amends for what she did. Because of his cruelty that he showed Catherine when Morris left, he changed his daughter from being the warm and kind woman that she was to a hard-hearted and cold woman who would not even visit him on his deathbed, which at least her literary counterpart did. I think that it was Catherine's way of getting back at him after all of those years of sadness. I cannot help but feel sorry for Dr. Sloper: he was never able to move on; and he blamed his own daughter when he, as a doctor, should have known it was not her fault. He must have felt that he had to blame someone; so, why not the closest person to his wife before she died?

Matthew Engle

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