Reversing Roles

         In each of the works, Emily Brontë's 1847 Wuthering Heights, filmed in 1939 by William Wyler, and Henry James's 1880 Washington Square, filmed in 1947 by William Wyler, there is an important character by the name of Catherine. Each Catherine's life is affected greatly by her family and the people around her. Both go through great changes in their lives, which set the pace for the two stories. The two Catherine have many differences, yet they seem to reverse roles throughout the films, each Catherine evolves into a character much like the other.

         Catherine (Merle Oberon) in Wuthering Heights cares little for others with the exception of Heathcliff (Laurence Oliver), whom she loves. And she lets her selfishness gets in the way of this. It eventually destroys her and Heathcliff. She loves Heathcliff, but she wants someone who can give her everything she has ever wanted. She tries to justify her reasons for not wanting to marry Heathcliff by convincing herself that someone with money could take care of her. Catherine marries Edgar Linton (David Niven) after Heathcliff leaves Wuthering Heights. She is happy with her marriage to Edgar and changes into a person much like him, very caring and passionate. But once Heathcliff returns, her feelings change; she wants to see Heathcliff despite the way it makes her husband feel. After Catherine and Edgar have a fight over Heathcliff, she becomes very ill. She willed herself to die because she could not have Heathcliff.

         Catherine in Washington Square and The Heiress, as portrayed on screen by Olivia de Havilland, is a different type of character. She is shy and not very attractive. She loves her father, Dr. Sloper (Ralph Richardson in the film), and he loves her; but he could not help but compare her to her dead mother. He believes that Morris (Montgomery Clift in the movie), the man that she loves, is after her money, and he is correct. But Catherine does not believe him; Morris has convinced her that he truly loves her. When Catherine's father disapproves of Morris, she plans to marry him anyway. Dr. Sloper tells Catherine that, if she marries Morris, she will lose her inheritance. After leaning this, Catherine informs Morris that she will lose her inheritance if they marry. Morris tries to talk her into forgiving her father, but she refuses, so he decides not to pursue Catherine's love anymore. He claims it is due to the fact he does not want to come between Catherine and her father, but the truth is he had just wanted her money. Due to all Catherine has been put through by her father and Morris, she becomes a very strong-willed person. At the end she refuses to take Morris back after what he had done to her. She is now worried only about herself and is not trusting of anyone.

         The two Catherine in these stories are very different; yet they have one similarity; both women fell in love with unstable men. The difference is that they let their broken hearts affect their lives in different ways. At the end of the stories both Catherine change roles due to the men they chose. In the beginning of Wuthering Heights, Catherine was a strong person and becomes weaker and more passive woman by marrying Edgar and denying her love for Heathcliff which caused her death. Catherine let her broken heart kill her. In Washington Square, Catherine was weak in the beginning and became a stronger person due to her love for Morris. She learned to stand up to her father because she had to defend Morris. Her new strength helped her give up on Morris after he left her and allowed her to move on. Both Catherines let their broken hearts affect their lives but in almost complete opposite ways.

Sarah Weaver

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