Washington Square

by

Henry James

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Washington Square: Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
That evening, when Aunt Penniman tells Catherine about her meeting with Morris, Catherine feels angry for almost the first time in her life, realizing that “her aunt was meddlesome.” Though it feels “presumptuous” to say so, Catherine tells Aunt Penniman that only she ought to visit Morris. Aunt Penniman asks why Catherine seems so “cold” and, in light of Catherine’s fear of Dr. Sloper, whether she means to give Morris up. Catherine, vexed, asks her aunt why she pushes her this way. Aunt Penniman says dramatically that Catherine doesn’t feel the importance “of not disappointing that gallant young heart.”
Catherine’s conversation with Aunt Penniman shows that Catherine, in spite of her timidity, does have her own opinions about things and will stand up to the authority figures in her life. Here, she perceives that Aunt Penniman is overstepping her bounds out of a desire to be involved in Catherine’s love triangle. Catherine’s reactions are signs of a slowly developing assertion of independence.
Themes
Gaining Independence Theme Icon
Reason, Romanticism, and Blind Spots Theme Icon
Aunt Penniman thinks that she has never seen such a “dark fixedness in [Catherine’s] gaze.” Catherine says that she doesn’t think her aunt really knows her. Aunt Penniman doesn’t know what to make of the fact that her niece has “suddenly become stern and contradictious.” Catherine asks Aunt Penniman not to meet with Morris again. Aunt Penniman finds her “thankless.”
Catherine’s unprecedented firmness unsettles Aunt Penniman, and she chalks it up to ingratitude on her niece’s part, not understanding that Catherine sees her behavior as unwelcome and intrusive, not to mention deceptive.
Themes
Gaining Independence Theme Icon
Reason, Romanticism, and Blind Spots Theme Icon