Tough Love

     Throughout the ages, the relationships between fathers and their daughters have proven to be quite unique indeed. As the ultimate "daddy's girl" myself, I have been a firsthand witness to the awesome power of a father's love. Although the love of a father is extremely special, it is also incredibly complicated. This is due to the fact that fathers themselves are walking contradictions. For example, every father is proud to brag that his daughter is a perfect angel, full of virtue and respectability. Even with this high opinion, however, he cannot possibly allow his baby girl to stay out a minute past midnight. Is this the case because he does not trust her or because he does not trust that teenage terror known as the male species? Although every father is aware of the fact that someday he will be forced to walk his little princess down the aisle and give her away, fathers are forever jealous of each and every boyfriend who seems a threat to his position as "the man in her life."

     Almost every father is protective beyond the understanding that his angel may make mistakes from time to time. When a father loses trust in his daughter, it is as if he has been stabbed in the back; and seeing a father's disappointment in her is the worst punishment a daughter can endure. Nevertheless, fathers are generally easily forgiving creatures. Sometimes, all it takes is the batting of those baby blues and a sweet smile, and his anger magically melts away. Yes, there is no greater reward on earth than that of a father's forgiveness. Therefore, the best way to describe the love of a father is "tough love." A prime example of this tough love can be seen in the character of Austin Sloper toward his daughter, Catherine, in the 1948 play The Heiress, written by Ruth and Augustus Goetz and Henry James's 1880 novel, Washington Square.

     Although I believe that William Wyler totally redeemed himself with the direction of the 1949 film version of this play (after his screw up with Wuthering Heights), there is a change that was made in the film that, in my mind, entirely altered the plot. This is the fact that in the novel Wahington Square, Dr. Sloper refused to forgive or trust Catherine and, in the end, omitted her partially from his will. To be more explicit, he left her only a fifth of the $20,000 he had originally set aside. The rest of the money went to various medical concerns, such as the clinic he worked with. I liked the endings of the play and movie better because Sloper's tough love shines through when he keeps her in his will, despite his disappointment in her.

     Although, at times, Dr. Sloper (Ralph Richardson) seems outlandishly cruel, he is trying desperately to be proud of his daughter (Olivia de Havilland); and he really wants what is best for her (regardless of what she wants). It truly breaks my heart that Catherine feels so unloved by her father. His cruel remarks toward her in which he compared her to her mother, although they are disturbing, may actually be his attempt to put her in her place. To a daughter who wants nothing more than to please her father, these words come as a pretty heavy blow.

     In my opinion, Dr. Sloper's tough love is evident in the fact that, after his death, Dr. Sloper still does not want Catherine and Morris to marry. In the film, I am led to believe that he trusts that they will not when he leaves Catherine in his will. Is Dr. Sloper's hatred for Morris (Montgomery Clift) perhaps an attempt at defending his place as the man in Catherine's life? I believe it is, especially because he constantly refuses to believe that any man could possibly love Catherine for who she is (as he must truly love her in his heart). By the fact that he leaves her in his will, I believe without a doubt that he somehow found a way to forgive her or to trust her. Or, perhaps, he trusts himself enough to know that the tough love he has shown Catherine will win out in the end. He may sense that he and Catherine have some sort of bond far beneath the surface that she will not allow herself to break.

     This small, but important difference between Washington Square and The Heiress--play and movie--made a huge impact on my feelings toward Dr. Sloper. While I hate his guts in the book, I am led to realize in the film that somewhere underneath his cruel exterior, Dr. Sloper is really just a father who wants what is best for his daughter. This is the love of a father--a "tough love."

Megan Douglas

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