Washington Square


Henry James

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Washington Square: Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

While she is inarticulate, Catherine enjoys expressing herself through a somewhat ornate wardrobe—“[making] up for her diffidence of speech by a fine frankness of costume.” This embarrasses Dr. Sloper, who would prefer that his daughter dress in a manner befitting “Republican simplicity.” For instance, to a party at her aunt Mrs. Almond’s, 21-year-old Catherine wears a dress of red satin with gold trim which she’s coveted for a long time. This party “[is] the beginning of something very important.”
Dr. Sloper wishes his daughter’s style were more austere; wearing one’s wealth on one’s sleeve is, in his eyes, unAmerican. This is another example of Catherine not measuring up in her father’s eyes. For her, fancy dress is simply an outlet for her otherwise shy personality.
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While the Slopers live in fashionable Washington Square, Mrs. Almond and her large family live uptown in an area which still retains some “rural picturesqueness.” Catherine grew up close to her nine Almond cousins and enjoyed boisterous games with them. Now, however, the Almonds are beginning to “settle themselves in life.” One of the daughters is engaged to a stockbroker, and Mrs. Almond is throwing a party celebrating that event.
New York City is still coming into its own, but the Slopers’ home is on the cutting edge, showing how important class identity is to Dr. Sloper. Now that her cousins are beginning to establish themselves in adult life, there’s a sense that it might be Catherine’s turn, too.
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