Dr. Sloper in The Heiress

†††††††† After reading Henry Jamesís 1880 Washington Square and watching William Wylerís 1949 The Heiress in class, I could not help but be surprised by the reaction of the class and the overriding sentiment regarding the character of Dr. Sloper.

†††††††† It seems most despised Dr. Sloper (Ralph Richardson) was a cold-hearted unloving, dominating parent figure to his daughter, Catherine (Olivia de Havilland). While it is true that Sloperís parental shadow would be a difficult one to escape, I failed to have the same reaction toward†him as seemingly everyone else.

†††††††† Dr. Sloper was not a fantastic father to Catherine. He expected too much of her and compared her endlessly to his dead wife, whom he idealized. This was unfair to Catherine because no one could have measured up to the picture of his wife he had concocted in his head. But while Sloper might not have been a fairy tale father figure to Catherine, I maintain he was nonetheless a good one, and I believe in the end, Catherine treated him far worse than he had treated her.

†††††††† Like any father, Dr. Sloper only wanted the best for Catherine. He wanted to see her blossom into a charming young woman; and he wanted to see her fall in love with a man who would love her for who she was, not for her money. He was immediately suspicious of Morris, and rightly so. Catherine was beyond naÔve; she was stupid. It would have taken a complete fool to be tricked by Morris. How could she have believed he was truly in love with her when the couple likely had not spent a total of twenty-four hours together? If she did not get it before, Morris worrying aloud to her that he might seem mercenary was a dead giveaway.

†††††††† As Dr. Sloper said in the film, it is impossible to protect a willing victim, as Catherine was. Some would say Catherine would have been better off with Morris, but I strongly disagree. A fake marriage and fake feelings would have done her no good, and she would have found out the truth sooner or later. The marriage that would have started in The Heiress could have very well ended up as the marriage that was in shambles in Henrik Ibsenís 1879 A Dollís House. Would that have been better than Catherineís life with her father, who did love her but was not the best at showing it? She might have enjoyed her life with Morris at first, but she would have woken up and realized she was living a lie down the road, or she would have been dumped by Morris as soon as he got his hands on her money.

†††††††† Dr. Sloper showed great foresight in realizing all these things and showed great compassion toward his daughter in protecting her from them, and what he got in return was cruel ungratefulness and hatred. Dr. Sloper is the character whom we should feel sorry for in this film, not Catherine.

Tommy Dillard

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