Catherine: From a Psychological Perspective

         Washington Square, written by Henry James in 1880 and directed as The Heiress by William Wyler in 1949, tells the story of a young women, Catherine Sloper (Olivia de Havilland), who is basically mentally and emotionally abused by everyone she knows. Her father (Ralph Richardson) has made it cruelly obvious her whole life that she is not good enough for him. She is not pretty like her mother; she is awkwardly shy in her younger days; she is simply not enough for her father. Then she meets a man, Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift), who "loves" her, so he says; but the second she tells him if she marries him her father will disinherit her, he takes off and leaves her. It is during these early years when she has been so hurt and so abused by all around her that in today's society she would be an ideal candidate for an eating disorder.

         Catherine has been set up by all around her to fail and feel miserable about herself. There are several causes of eating disorders that Catherine has in her life. The causes that she has in her life are as follows: emotional abuse, mental abuse, no sense of an identity because her father is always displeased, her status as an old maid while everyone at her age is getting married and having kids while she is not. But some how she makes it through those early years and past her father's death so that she is the head of the house. The way she is with her father during his last days is drastically different in the book than it is in the movie. In the book she is there to take care of him, but in the movie not only does she not take care of him, but the day he dies she will not even go to him when he asks for her.

         It is not too long after her father's death that Morris, the fiend, returns. However, this time with a twist he honestly seems to love her; but she no longer cares. She seems to have a stronger character than anyone would have ever believed her to have, but she also seems cruelly impassable to all human emotion, in both the book and movie. In the book, Catherine has one brief encounter with Morris in which she puts him in his place and lets him know that he will never be anything to her ever again, whereas in the movie she exhibits a while new level of cruelty. She lets Morris believe that she still wants him and will marry, but then when he comes back to get her to go be married she leaves him standing on the porch calling out her name, while she slowly walks up the stairs to her room.

         She lets her resentment from the past get the better of her, as she has struggled to survive her abuse inflicted by others over the years. In retaliation, she has also managed to get her revenge on those who hurt her. But in doing, so she has doomed herself to a lifetime of being alone. So while Catherine may have resisted the resources that today's girls would fall back on, she has managed to punish herself in another way.

Heather White

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