Turning into Our Parents

         Turning into our parents is something that many of us fear and eventually something that many of us will do. A fine example of this occurring in literature can be found in Henry James's 1880 Washington Square and William Wyler's 1949 film The Heiress. Catherine Sloper (Olivia de Havilland), the sweet, naïve, somewhat awkward daughter to the popular Dr. Sloper (Ralph Richardson), seems to become shrewd and strong towards the end. The significance of this is that her father, who has displayed these very traits throughout the novel, and the film, has had contempt for his daughter because she is not like him for so long.

         Miss. Sloper, with her promise of inheritance, does make a fine target for Morris (Montgomery Clift), the charming manipulator. He completely sweeps the poor girl away with romantic notions that she had not yet been a privy to in her humble life. Morris soon realizes that his greatest obstacle will be Dr. Sloper. He is a smart, no-nonsense kind of man who sees right through the con game, which Morris is planning.

         What events occur in the novel and movie that change Catherine's personality? One is brought about by Dr. Sloper himself. Upon returning from Europe with his daughter, the Doctor finds it necessary to tell his only child that she is a poor excuse for her mother (whom he has idealized to angelic status). The painful shock of this news hurts Catherine so much that she grows immensely strong. She decides never to make peace with her father; and she never does, not even when he is dying. The irony is that she is beginning to take on his personality with this act; furthermore it has the complete opposite effect on Catherine. Instead of forgetting Morris, she wants to marry him more then ever.

         However, when does Catherine turn into the doctor? This happens in the book, when Morris starts pulling away upon learning that he will not get his clutches on her father's fortune. In the film the moment she realizes that Morris will not return with a carriage to take her to that romantic little inn up the river. It is at the very moment the clock strikes at the hour that the girl's heart breaks; this irreparable damage is the catalyst which changes her entire personality. No longer is she the awkward child silently despised by her father. She is a strong and desirable woman.

         She goes on to live in the handsome house on Washington Square without Morris the mercenary. She carries herself with pride, style, and a shrewd confidence that seems to run in the family. In fact when Morris returns in book and film, she gives him the same sort of shrift that her father had given him years before. In the book she politely tells him to leave; and in the movie, she tricks him into thinking she will leave with him, only to listen to him pound in vain on the bolted door, as she strides up the stairs, lamp held high, in triumph.

Andreas Shabaan

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