Catherine, even as a child, has always been a pleasing girl. She always did what her father said and cared deeply about pleasing him. Unfortunately, her father was always comparing Catherine to her mother; a woman who could do no wrong, and who had died giving birth to Catherine. At the very beginning of the story, Washington Square, written in 1880 by Henry James and filmed as The Heiress in 1949 by William Wyler, the reader/viewer is aware that Catherine (Olivia de Havilland) had never really received a fair chance because her father (Ralph Richardson) thought she should be exactly like her mother: beautiful, smart, musically talented, and extremely sociable. Dr. Sloper, Catherine's father, had a problem with Catherine because he felt that Catherine was the total opposite of her mother because she was not pretty but was instead dull, extremely shy, and did not have an ear for music in the movie, although she could play the piano competently if not excitingly in the book.
Catherine meets Morris (Montgomery Clift), her one and only love, at a party at her cousin's house. Morris immediately begins talking to Catherine, and she instantly becomes smitten with him. He is handsome, intelligent, and well-spoken. Any woman would have wanted him. The only problem, at least for Dr. Sloper, is that Morris has no money, and Catherine will receive thirty thousand dollars a year. Because Dr. Sloper does not see his daughter as a woman that has any attractive traits, he perceives Morris as a major threat who is only seeking Catherine's money. Therefore, Dr. Sloper even takes Catherine away to Europe at one point in the story to try to get her to forget about Morris.
Catherine's money is the major issue in the story. Morris is such a smooth talker that Catherine falls completely in love with him and never questions him. One reason that Catherine may have never questioned Morris is the fact that Catherine has never had a man interested in her before Morris came back to town. She is so trusting because she truly loves him and does not realize that he really is using her just as her father suspects.
Catherine never questions whether Morris truly loves her or is just after her money. She even agrees to forgo her inheritance to marry Morris. Morris, upon learning this, leaves town and poor Catherine is left alone to face her father, who is happy that Morris left even though it has left his daughter heartbroken.
Some years later in the book but almost immediately in the movie, Catherine's father becomes terribly ill; and, before he dies, mostly out of pride, he asks Catherine to promise him not to marry Morris after his death. Catherine cannot make this promise to him, but she is stunned to learn that Morris is back in town and wants to see her after
her father is dead. Catherine, this time, is much smarter and sees him for the money-grabbing person he is. She does not let him wiggle his way back into her life. Instead she turns him away politely in the book and vengefully in the movie because she finally realizes that her father was right. Morris was always after her money, and she would get the last word this time.