Washington Square

The Alps Symbol Analysis

The Alps Symbol Icon

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

The Washington Square quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Alps. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Gaining Independence Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Oxford University Press edition of Washington Square published in 2010.
Chapter 24 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Catherine Sloper (speaker), Dr. Austin Sloper (speaker), Morris Townsend
Related Symbols: The Alps
Page Number: 114
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Alps Symbol Timeline in Washington Square

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Alps appears in Washington Square. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 24
Gaining Independence Theme Icon
Loss and Idealization Theme Icon
Reason, Romanticism, and Blind Spots Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Gaining Independence Theme Icon
Loss and Idealization Theme Icon
Reason, Romanticism, and Blind Spots Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Gaining Independence Theme Icon
Loss and Idealization Theme Icon
Reason, Romanticism, and Blind Spots Theme Icon
...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... (full context)