Good Father, Bad Father

         Washington Square, written by Henry James in 1880, is a novel that contains an issue that is truly debatable. Dr. Sloper can be understood as a father with good intentions for his daughter, Catherine Sloper. One could make the case that he cares for her and is butting into her life for her own good. One could also say that he is a horrible father that only puts down his daughter and stands in the way of her happiness. The novel and the 1949 film The Heiress, directed by William Wyler, support each side.

         There is plenty of evidence to support the argument that Dr. Sloper (Ralph Richardson) is a horrible father. He constantly puts down his daughter (Olivia de Havilland), and one might believe that he underestimates her. Dr. Sloper does not let her stay at the party to socialize with Morris (Montgomery Clift). He complains that she does not socialize enough; but, when she finally does, he wants to leave. Dr. Sloper also does not condone the number of visits his daughter receives by Morris; one would think he would be happy that his not very special daughter was getting attention. Dr. Sloper also goes to great lengths to prove his preconceived notion of Morris.

         Even though this evidence is extremely strong to support Dr. Sloper's lack of father-ship, there is just as much information to support the other side. Dr. Sloper could be viewed as being protective and loving. He does put down his daughter; but he only does so to other people and never her, so one might view it as that he knows her limitations. He encourages her to be social and come out of her shell, as well as taking her to dinners and parties. He compliments her occasionally too; he states that she embroiders neatly; and, when she comes down in her dress, he makes a compliment. When someone is interested in her, he makes sure he is of good character. He gives Morris a chance by inviting him to dinner. When he does discover that Morris is not of good character, he takes actions to save his daughter from a mistake she may make.

         So one may read or view this story of the father, Dr. Sloper, his daughter, Catherine, and her lover, Morris, in two totally different ways, whether positively or negatively.

Theresa Skinner

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