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Power of Manipulation in “Washington Square” by Henry James Essay

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Updated: Oct 22nd, 2021

Introduction

Analyzing people’s behavior through history a certain conclusion is outlined. People tend to be manipulative by nature, whereas other people tend to be manipulated. The reasons why people try to control the lives of others are different, and the power they use can be judged on the basis of moral and social values they put for themselves. In that sense, the short novel “Washington Square” by Henry James, is a perfect example of people’s relations and the way they are controlled. This essay is an analysis of the aforementioned novel’s two characters, Dr. Sloper and Morris Townsend, addressing the power techniques they use to control another character in the novel –Catherine Sloper.

Dr. Austin Sloper

Analyzing Dr. Sloper’s power over Catherine, some of characteristics of his personality should be mentioned. Dr. Sloper is a quite successful man in his fifties whose one of the main distinguishing characteristics is a sharp mind and a sense of irony and sarcasm. Another thing that could be said of him is that he knows his value and weight in society, a fact that is somewhat crucial to explain his relationship with his daughter and the expectations that he put in her.

The sense of these expectations is felt throughout the novel and veiled with his figure as a father. The figure of a father and his position combined with a sense of fear of his disapproval is the main weapon that is used to control Catherine. Describing the father-daughter relations the following lines should be explanatory,” There was nothing, of course, to be ashamed of; but this was not enough for the Doctor, who was a proud man, and would have enjoyed being able to think of his daughter as an unusual girl.” (Henry James, p. 35).

“He had moments of irritation at having produced a commonplace child, and he even went so far at times as to take a certain satisfaction in the thought that his wife had not lived to find her out.”

Even though the true nature of Townsend’s intention towards Catherine was correctly predicted by Dr. Sloper, it could be assumed that it did not play a major role in his control over her. His assumptions that no one could love his child purely without thinking of her money would not have changed with the replacement of Townsend. Dr. Sloper could have used love instead of fear to communicate with his daughter, but as Machiavelli explained the love and fear relation, “the two rarely come together, anyone compelled to choose will find greater security in being feared than in being loved”. (Niccolo Machiavelli, p.66).

Dr. Sloper found that his security is in being feared or in fearing his disapproval, and when Dr. Sloper told Catherine that she should have told him about her engagement “Catherine hesitated a moment, and then–“It was because I was afraid you wouldn’t like it!” she confessed.” (Henry James, p.85).

It could be said that this fear along with the admiration of his strength was controlling the pattern of Catherine actions even in the cases when her father was not present, “Oh, nothing about my father is weak!” (133), and when she was accused of being afraid of her father she never denied that fact, “She felt no impulse to deny it because she had no shame in it; for if it was no honor to herself, at least it was an honor to him. “I suppose I must be,” she said, simply”.

Dr. Sloper’s true contempt is unveiled at the end of their tour in Europe when he described her as an unworthy package which value was doubled with the tour they took together; he expressed his true feelings that he never considered her as “limited” and “rustic”. In that, it can be seen that the influence of Dr. Sloper was more of security for him rather than a true affection of a father to his daughter.

Morris Townsend

The character of Morris is similar to Dr. Sloper, in a way that both affected the same person and both hid their true feelings behind a mask, although each with a different purpose.

If characterizing Morris in one word, that certainly would be slickness. As there were no direct signs of Townsend’s intentions throughout the novel, his true nature could be sensed through his dialogues with Dr. Sloper and Catherine.

Analyzing the power using which Townsend controlled Catherine; it could be that this power is at the same time his only virtue which is his physical appearance.

This fact can be felt through Catherine describing Townsend either in dialogues or in her thoughts. “What made it natural was that he was so handsome, or rather, as she phrased it to herself, so beautiful.”

“What in the world could this beautiful young man has said”.

Phrases such as the aforementioned imply for Catherine, merely the idea that such a man could pay attention to her was flattering. This attention is similar to a service or a favor after which Catherine was tied to a bond which as Machiavelli described it is not easily broken.

A proof of this fact can be sensed through all the attempts Dr. Sloper has made to change her mind, regardless of his intentions, it is seen that she felt that she should be with him. Pitifully, the obligation to be with Morris is seen through the dialogue when Morris wanted to leave her, where despite the obvious signs of his betrayal she nevertheless, wanted to be with him.

This dialogue revealed that Morris, besides a beautiful appearance and a greedy nature had nothing else to offer, except unbelievable excuses on why they should not be together. The bond of Catherine’s obligation also can be seen in her refusal to promise her father that she will never marry Morris.

It might be said that she refused to promise to convince her father who threatened to alterProof his will, that it never was about the money, but it is more believable to assume that the power Dr. Sloper had over her was stronger than her.

Conclusion

Summarizing the novel, it could be said that the author intended to show an example where some people can be manipulated for all their life and remain satisfied with the outcome. The example of Catherine Sloper at the end of the novel where she “picking up her morsel of fancy-work, had seated herself with it again–for life, as it were”(220), is showing that she had a useful life after all, whereas her father and Morris never achieved their goals and remained forgotten.

Works Cited

  1. James, Henry. Washington Square (Penguin Classics). Penguin Classics, 2007.
  2. Machiavelli, Niccolò. The Prince. Bantam Books, 2003.
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