Knight in Tarnished Armor

         Every girl out there is looking for that one knight in shining armor that rides up on his majestic, white steed to sweep her away to live happily ever after with him. But unfortunately even if such heroes do come, they tend to end up being just as tarnished as the rest of them would-be knights. In Henry James's classic 1880 Washington Square, filmed in 1949 as The Heiress by director William Wyler, this statement seems to ring all too true for the main character, an heiress named Catherine Sloper (Olivia de Havilland in the movie).

         Morris Townsend (especially as portrayed by Montgomery Clift on screen) seemed to Catherine to be the man of her dreams who said all the right things and did all the right things. Morris' character is one of the worst kinds of liars because he preyed on her insecurities and the way her father treated her. Catherine clearly identified him in the last part of the story in which she said that he had become greedy over the years because he not only wanted her money after all he put her through, but also her love.

         Despite the terrible way that Morris treated her, Catherine was perhaps treated the worst by her cold, unloving father, as depicted by Ralph Richardson in the movie, who turned out to be the biggest let-down of her life. Her father had no remorse for her and was too wrapped up in his own love for his departed wife to care about the self-esteem and general welfare of his own daughter.

         Thus, in essence, knights in shining armor are not only lovers; they are the men we look up to in our lives that we adore and rely on to make our lives happy. However, Morse had really been a black knight, masquerading as a white knight; and his armor, so shining at first to Catherine, had ended up being so tarnished that she totally rejected him and sent him riding lonely away.

Jami Anthony

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