During the Slopers’ year in Europe, which Dr. Sloper hopes will distract Catherine from her engagement to the unsatisfactory Morris Townsend, they take a hike in a remote Alpine valley, which takes on several layers of symbolic significance as the journey unfolds. Their route through the valley “proved very wild and rough, and their walk became rather a scramble.” The rough terrain symbolizes the oppositional nature of Catherine and Dr. Sloper’s relationship, which now comes to a head in a heated confrontation. Dr. Sloper abruptly asks Catherine if she has in fact “given [Morris] up.” Catherine admits that she has not, and “this hard, melancholy dell, abandoned by the summer light, made her feel her loneliness”—that is, Catherine finds herself truly alone, having to assert her independence from her father once and for all. Dr. Sloper further asks Catherine if she should “like to be left in such a place as this, to starve […] that will be your fate—that’s how he will leave you.” For Dr. Sloper, the desolate environment symbolizes not his daughter’s frightening but necessary emancipation, but the bleak outcome he foresees for Catherine if she persists on the path she’s chosen. Angry, Catherine replies that his accusation of Morris “is not true […] and you ought not to say it.” Her father then walks back to the carriage in the near darkness, leaving Catherine to make her own way back. Though her heart is pounding from the confrontation and the novelty of having spoken her mind in opposition to her father, Catherine “kept her course, and […] she gained the road.” Her solo journey back in the darkness signifies that, although she and her father ostensibly continue their travels together, she pursues her own path in life from now on—something of which she is fully capable. Thus, the Alpine scene as a whole symbolizes the end of Catherine’s idealization of her father and her ultimate assertion of her independence—the climax of the novel.
The Alps Quotes in Washington Square
After a while the Doctor descried a footpath which, leading through a transverse valley, would bring them out, as he justly supposed, at a much higher point of the ascent. They followed this devious way and finally lost the path; the valley proved very wild and rough, and their walk became rather a scramble. […] Then, abruptly, in a low tone, he asked her an unexpected question—“Have you given him up?”
The question was unexpected, but Catherine was only superficially unprepared. “No, father!” she answered.
He looked at her again, for some moments, without speaking. “Does he write to you?” he asked.
“Yes—about twice a month.”
The Doctor looked up and down the valley, swinging his stick; then he said to her, in the same low tone—“I am very angry.”
She wondered what he meant—whether he wished to frighten her. If he did, the place was well chosen; this hard, melancholy dell, abandoned by the summer light, made her feel her loneliness.