Washington Square

by

Henry James

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Washington Square: Chapter 24 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
During their first six months abroad, Dr. Sloper says nothing about his daughter’s engagement, and she is his “docile and reasonable associate” throughout their sightseeing. Catherine continues to secretly correspond with Morris behind her father’s back; still stung by his response to her attempts to be honorable, she no longer worries about pleasing him to the same degree.
Catherine has been deeply hurt by her father’s rejection of her attempts to reason with him; it feels like a rejection of herself on a deep level. As a result, she closes herself off from him even more. She doesn’t provoke him, but she’s not willing to guiltily refrain from contact with Morris, either.
Themes
Gaining Independence Theme Icon
Loss and Idealization Theme Icon
One day, toward the end of the summer, Dr. Sloper and Catherine are hiking in a remote Alpine pass and lose their way. Abruptly, Dr. Sloper asks Catherine if she has given Morris up. She admits that she still writes to Morris. Dr. Sloper replies that he is “very angry.” He tells Catherine that, though he is outwardly smooth, “at bottom I am very passionate, and I assure you I can be very hard.”
The remoteness of the desolate Alpine valley symbolizes how alone Catherine is as she summons her independence in facing her father, and the consequent danger to their relationship. Her father warns her that he’s more fearful than he might seem from the outside. It’s a crack in his “reasonable” façade for the first time.
Themes
Gaining Independence Theme Icon
Loss and Idealization Theme Icon
Reason, Romanticism, and Blind Spots Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Catherine wonders if Dr. Sloper has had some plan in bringing her here—either to frighten her by the remote Alpine surroundings (though she knows the place can’t harm her), or even to intimidate her by his person (though she doesn’t believe he would really fasten his “fine, supple hand” around her throat). Catherine replies that she’s sure her father “can be anything you please.”
Though the circumstances are quite intimidating, Catherine reasons with herself despite the fear—neither the place nor (probably) her father can do her actual harm. She doesn’t shrink from her father and tells him it’s up to him what he wants to be, implying that he has the choice to either be a loving and supportive father or a hardened antagonist.
Themes
Gaining Independence Theme Icon
Loss and Idealization Theme Icon
Reason, Romanticism, and Blind Spots Theme Icon
Dr. Sloper reiterates that he is furious. He says that if Catherine marries Morris, she will be left to starve in a place as desolate as the Alps. The insult to Morris angers Catherine, and she protests that it’s untrue. He repeats that it is true, regardless of what she believes, and returns to the carriage. Catherine’s heart pounds as she follows him back to the road, and she almost loses her path, but she finally rejoins him in the carriage.
Dr. Sloper’s threats and insults to Catherine don’t shake her, but an insult to Morris makes her furious. Catherine’s heart pounds as much from the fact that she has heatedly contradicted her father for the first time in her life as from the confrontation itself. She is left to find her way back to the carriage in the semidarkness by herself, and she succeeds, symbolizing the confidence and independence she’s gained.
Themes
Gaining Independence Theme Icon
Loss and Idealization Theme Icon
Reason, Romanticism, and Blind Spots Theme Icon
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Dr. Sloper says nothing more of the incident for another six months, until they’re in Liverpool, the night before they embark for New York. He asks Catherine to give him three days’ warning before she “goes off” with Morris to marry him. He says that Morris ought to be grateful to him for taking Catherine abroad to gain some culture before their marriage; he has “fattened the sheep for him before he kills it.”
Dr. Sloper has become somewhat resigned to Catherine’s determination to marry Morris, but he is not happy about it. He views Morris’s marriage to Catherine as his own inevitable loss of her, making her independence a zero-sum game. Accordingly, he speaks of the eventuality of her marriage in crass, fatalistic terms.
Themes
Gaining Independence Theme Icon
Women’s Limited Freedoms Theme Icon