Washington Square

by

Henry James

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Washington Square: Chapter 14 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Dr. Sloper meets with Morris’s sister, Mrs. Montgomery, at her house, whose exterior suggests she is a “thrifty and self-respecting” person. He quickly takes Mrs. Montgomery’s measure and decides she is humble and brave and looks up to him as a “fine gentleman.” He asks Mrs. Montgomery to tell him about Morris’s character for the sake of Catherine, who is “such an easy victim.” He explains about Catherine’s inheritance from her mother and that Catherine will inherit almost twice that amount upon Dr. Sloper’s death, should he approve of her husband. But, he adds, if Catherine marries without his consent—and that includes marrying Morris—he will leave every penny of his own fortune to charity.
Once again, Dr. Sloper shows his capacity for quickly summing up a person’s character based on a few limited observations. He appears inclined to do this in ways that flatter his own character. He continues to view his daughter chiefly in the category of a “victim,” thinking little of her agency. He also makes clear how much Catherine’s future prosperity will depend on his judgment of her choices.
Themes
Class, Wealth, and Social Status Theme Icon
Reason, Romanticism, and Blind Spots Theme Icon
Women’s Limited Freedoms Theme Icon
Mrs. Montgomery thinks for a while and asks what makes Dr. Sloper dislike her brother Morris so much. He explains that although Morris seems like excellent company, he appears ill-suited to be Catherine’s caretaker and protector. He is “in the habit of trusting [his] impression,” though Mrs. Montgomery is “at liberty to contradict it flat.” He further explains that he’s in the habit of dividing people into classes or types, and that while he could be mistaken about Morris as an individual, Morris has every appearance of belonging to the selfish “type.”
Dr. Sloper is transparent about his habits of observing, judging, and classifying people. While he seems to regard this as an extension of his scientific profession and “reasonable” turn of mind, it’s easy to see how these habits would readily enable Dr. Sloper to confirm his own prejudices about people. In other words, he’s not as “reasonable” as he believes himself to be.
Themes
Reason, Romanticism, and Blind Spots Theme Icon
Women’s Limited Freedoms Theme Icon
When Mrs. Montgomery hesitantly admits that her brother can be selfish, Dr. Sloper says, “You women are all the same! But the type to which your brother belongs was made to be the ruin of you, and you were made to be its handmaids and victims.” He goes on to explain that men like Morris exploit the devotion of women like Mrs. Montgomery and Catherine in order to pursue their own pleasures in life.
Dr. Sloper continues to confirm his own preconceptions about both Morris and Mrs. Montgomery, even going so far as to claim that women are all alike in their capacity to be victimized by men like Morris.
Themes
Reason, Romanticism, and Blind Spots Theme Icon
Women’s Limited Freedoms Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Dr. Sloper imagines that Mrs. Montgomery has “suffered immensely” because of her brother, and she admits this. Dr. Sloper explains that he figured this out “by a philosophic trick—by what they call induction.” He is amused to learn further that Morris tutors the five Montgomery children in Spanish, and asserts that Morris “sponges off” his sister. Dr. Sloper even promises Mrs. Montgomery financial support if she will help put a stop to his marriage to Catherine.
Dr. Sloper’s questioning of Mrs. Montgomery has a manipulative feel, though he maintains that he’s simply drawing conclusions based on evidence. Morris’s teaching Spanish to the children is implied to be fairly useless, further proof that Morris does little to earn his keep. Dr. Sloper goes so far as to effectively bribe Mrs. Montgomery to say something damning about her brother.
Themes
Class, Wealth, and Social Status Theme Icon
Reason, Romanticism, and Blind Spots Theme Icon
Women’s Limited Freedoms Theme Icon
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Almost in tears, Mrs. Montgomery resists Dr. Sloper’s pressure to speak ill of Morris’s character, but she finally bursts out with, “Don’t let [Catherine] marry him!” Dr. Sloper leaves with a feeling of moral satisfaction.
Mrs. Montgomery is understandably upset to be put in the position of putting down her brother in front of a stranger, though she ultimately breaks. The fact that Dr. Sloper is “morally satisfied” by this high-pressure interview suggests a coldness about his own character.
Themes
Reason, Romanticism, and Blind Spots Theme Icon
Women’s Limited Freedoms Theme Icon