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Essay on Catherine's Conflicting Feelings in James' Washington Square

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Many conflicting situations that give way to problems often arise in life. These problems often create conflicting feelings within an individual who tries to but cannot satisfy both of the opposing sides. The novella, Washington Square by Henry James, portrays this idea. The story follows Dr. Sloper who marries a clever woman who bears him a son. However, death seizes both the mother and child, leaving only his daughter, Catherine, who spends most of her life trying to please her father, but could never please him because she was not clever like her mother. Later, at her cousin’s bridal party, she meets Morris, a handsome, jobless young man with whom she falls in love and to whom she wishes to marry. However, Dr. Sloper, believing that Morris cares only about their money, refuses to let Catherine marry him. Through the novella, Washington Square, James portrays how Catherine’s problem regarding her love for Morris causes her to have conflicting desires and obligations that tear her mind in contradicting directions and reveals the novella’s theme of deceit.
Catherine desires to please Morris as well as her father, which proves impossible because Catherine’s marriage would please Morris but would not please her father. After meeting Catherine at the bridal party, Morris begins courting her. Later, he declares his love for her and kisses her, exchanging “lovers’ vows” (pg. 150), which suggests that marrying Catherine would please Morris, but would not please her father though Catherine’s “deepest desire was to please him” (pg. 113). When Catherine tells Dr. Sloper that she will marry Morris, he responds, “I don’t like your engagement” (pg. 154). The next day Dr. Sloper meets Morris and tells him, “…it is about the truth as a son-in...


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... desires to please both her father and Morris. However, to please her father, she would not marry Morris, which would not please Morris at all. Thus, she cannot satisfy them both. She has an obligation to herself to seek happiness with Morris as well as an obligation towards her father. However, if she obeys her father she would not be fulfilling her obligation towards herself. The conflicting desires and obligations influence the conflict regarding Catherine’s marriage, which reveals the novella’s theme of deceit. Morris deceives Catherine when he tells her that he loves her. Dr. Sloper deceives himself when he states that he does not allow Catherine’s marriage because of his belief that Morris only wants her money. Two compelling desires and obligations pull Catherine’s mind in conflicting directions in the story; the same happens to everyone in real life as well.


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