Washington Square

by

Henry James

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Washington Square: Chapter 32 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
As time goes on, Catherine remains “deeply and incurably wounded,” but Dr. Sloper has no way of knowing this—“his punishment […] for the abuse of sarcasm in his relations with  his daughter.” Aunt Almond suspects the truth that Catherine has been “cruelly jilted” and continues to show her maternal kindness; Dr. Sloper only sees that Catherine has had a “blessed escape” and that he’s done his duty by her. He even suspects that she and Morris might marry after he is dead.
Catherine’s pain from the ordeal with Morris is permanent, but thanks to her father’s cruelty, she remains a closed book around him, and he can only speculate as to what’s happened. He maintains that he’s acted rightly as a father and doesn’t trust that the two might not be planning to unite eventually, showing that he really doesn’t know Catherine.
Themes
Gaining Independence Theme Icon
Loss and Idealization Theme Icon
Reason, Romanticism, and Blind Spots Theme Icon
Women’s Limited Freedoms Theme Icon
In the coming years, Catherine “[recovers] her self-possession,” but she chooses never to marry again, even though she has opportunities: she receives offers from a kind, wealthy widower and a promising young lawyer. Catherine is in her thirties by this time and comfortably established as an “old maid”—she “regulated her days upon a system of her own, [and] interested herself in charitable institutions.”
Catherine has no trouble attracting other suitors in later years, thus revealing how unfair Dr. Sloper’s assessment of his daughter was. However, by this time, she’s not interested in marriage. The pain of her jilting by Morris is too scarring in its effects, and anyway, she has found freedom in ordering her life around purposes of her own. At great cost, she has found a lasting measure of independence.
Themes
Gaining Independence Theme Icon
Class, Wealth, and Social Status Theme Icon
Women’s Limited Freedoms Theme Icon
Related Quotes
As far as Catherine is concerned, the two major events of her life are that “Morris Townsend had trifled with her affection, and that her father had broken its spring.” Nothing can undo the pain of the former, and nothing can restore her admiration for Dr. Sloper; it’s up to Catherine to “fill the void” in her life. She readily does this, becoming “a sort of kindly maiden-aunt” to younger women in society.
Catherine doesn’t waste time moping or pining away over what has happened to her. She matter-of-factly accepts the painful circumstances and proactively seeks out ways to conduct her life according to her own liking. Her kindliness to younger women contrasts with Aunt Penniman’s calculating, self-serving ways toward Catherine.
Themes
Gaining Independence Theme Icon
Loss and Idealization Theme Icon
Women’s Limited Freedoms Theme Icon
Related Quotes