The Domineering Father Figure

         If I were to teach a course discussing family values, I would be hard-pressed to find a more negative environment than that of the individuals of Henry James's 1880 novel, Washington Square, filmed in 1949 as The Heiress by William Wyler.

         The primary problem in the familial unit in Washington Square is the domineering father figure, Austin Sloper (Ralph Richardson). He is an individual that has a perpetual dislike for his own daughter, Catherine (Olivia de Havilland). He always felt she was a far cry from the ethereal beauty of his wife. Although his disappointment is not completely unfounded (she is a bit of a bore), it seems most parents can be disappointed in their children while also loving them and wishing for them to be happy. Although Catherine's doomed love affair is one that will head her down a road of future unhappiness, Austin Sloper refuses to allow her to marry Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift); and. even though he is doing her a "favor," his domineering role over Catherine is principally why she has no chance at a happy love life. She has developed a submissive, permissive view to all forces around her, further hindering her development and crippling her for years to come.

         When children are dominated by authoritarian parents, they fail to properly develop, personality-wise. They do not go through the proper monitoring phase of personality development, during which an individual comes to a better understanding of him-or herself, their beliefs, and the world around them. Without this internal struggle, individuals have their life dictated for them, and they develop a foreclosed personality. Individuals in this state have their parents' beliefs forced upon them. They only believe that which their parents have "enlightened" them about.

         The relationship that Dr. Sloper has with his daughter is a prime example of how easily our lives can be manipulated by those that should be more concerned with proper, positive development. That is why the negative aspects of this relationship would make a good learning tool in classroom discussion.

Sean Curd

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