Catherine’s Final Revenge:

Was It the Right Thing to Do?

         In the 1949 movie The Heiress, directed by William Wyler, based on Henry James's 1880 Washington Square, the main character at the end decides to get revenge from the man she thought she loved because he had wronged her. On the other hand, James's Catherine behaves with decent dignity when she sends her Morris away for good. The question is was this cinematic revenge really right? I plan to evaluate this by trying to look at it in a psychological way.

         First we have to look at what would lead Catherine, played by Olivia de Havilland, to do this. For that we have to look at what happened when Morris, depicted by Montgomery Clift, abandoned her after they had planned to elope, which did not happen in the book, and what did to her mentally. First the one person she thought that loved her had abandoned her. This probably left her with thoughts of how unworthy she was and how much she lacked because she could not keep the man she loved. This was further backed up when her aunt, portrayed by Mariam Hopkins, basically told her Morris was not coming due to her lack of funds. This is connected to her father, acted by Ralph Richardson, because she had told her father that Morris was not like that, so in the end it was a double hit to her mentally.

         This was linked to her father because he had never really loved her and had expected too much from her. She always felt lacking to her father and had never received the attention that any child deserves. Therefore, this attention she lacked from her father and she getting from her fiancé. This is why mentally she received a brutal beating because everything she thought about Morris was a lie.

         At the end of the movie, the still handsome Morris (not the case in the book because he is bearded, balding, and fat) comes back to try and marry Catherine again. By this time, she has been beaten so mentally that the option is not even one because of the hatred she feels for Morris. Though there is hatred, she should not have done the same thing to Morris that had been done to her because of mental consequences. True, she finds a type of happiness by deserting Morris when he returns to elope with her, which he had not done the previous time; but it is a sadistic kind that is not good for the soul.

         Whatever happiness the cinematic Catherine, unlike her literary counterpart, felt will probably change if she ever gets over her hatred because she will realize that she is no better than Morris, which will lead to even more mental problems.

Michelle Maden

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