The Heiress, directed by William Wyler in 1949, was based on the 1880 book Washington Square, written by Henry James. The movie portrays Catherine Sloper (played by Olivia de Havilland) and her courtship by handsome and slick Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift). Catherine's emotionally abusive father, Dr. Austin Sloper (Ralph Richardson), is not quite sure about this character and tries to put a wedge between the two of them. Eventually it turns out that Dr. Sloper is right about Morris, but that certainly does not make Catherine feel any better. The raising of Catherine prepares her for this disappointment. But the question then begs to be asked: was it the raising that caused this disappointment, or was her father to be praised for preparing her?
We see the innocent and naïve young woman turn into a cold and hardened woman. Olivia de Havilland's portrayal, in which she demonstrates the maturity process, is what makes this movie wonderful. The movie culminates with the still charming Morris attempting to come back, with Catherine agreeing and then walking away from him as he did her.
Catherine's life can be looked at through two different levels of upbringing. The first is the terrible life that she had, being called names and emotionally abused by her father. This one aspect is difficult to view as it is happening, but one must also look at how this could positively affect her in the long run. This type of emotional abuse should not be condoned, but one must look at how it can decrease the effects of negative feedback. A large problem that has arisen lately in our society is the lack of young workers being able to take constructive criticism. This would not be the case with Catherine Sloper.
However, if we look at the positives that this type of upbringing may bring about, it is only fair to look at the negatives as well. This type of upbringing possibly drove Catherine into the arms of Morris. While not directly or purposefully pushing her to him, she may feel the need to be reassured, regardless of where this assurance comes from. She shows a complete disregard for logic and appears to seek out positive affirmations coming from a male. And of course it does not hurt that Morris is a good looking guy either.
While neither side--criticism or praise--is all good, or all bad, a balance needs to be found to have a well-rounded adult.