Washington Square Chapters 15 and 16 Summary and Analysis
by Henry James

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Chapters 15 and 16 Summary and Analysis

Dr. Sloper is nonplussed at Catherine’s reaction to his announcement that he does not approve of her engagement: she has no reaction. He cannot decide if she if giving him a silent reprimand or merely being an obedient daughter.

Catherine, in the meantime, is enjoying the feeling of being an obedient daughter. She writes a letter to Morris, telling him that they should not meet until she has made up her mind. Morris, irate, writes back saying he thought she had already made up her mind. He informs her that her father had been very violent in the conversation he had with Morris, while Morris himself was the picture of self-control. In fact, it had been the exact opposite. Yet Catherine is determined to avoid open rebellion. She believes that somehow, if she continues to be good, the situation will change, although she does not see the possibility that her father may yield.

Mrs. Penniman, however, is enjoying the drama. She hopes that the young couple will elope and that she herself will play a major role (in fact, the major role) in the secret (or “private”) marriage. She has continuously written to Morris and now decides that she should meet with him at some private location. She decides on an oyster bar far from Washington Square. Morris is not looking forward to the meeting, but he knows that Mrs. Penniman is a necessary evil in his plot to marry Catherine.

At the oyster bar, Mrs. Penniman is extremely excited at the plans she has in mind. She informs Morris that she does not think her brother will yield. He cannot be persuaded to do so, because he is convinced only by facts. Mrs. Penniman therefore recommends that Morris and Catherine elope. Mrs. Penniman tells Morris of a time that her husband performed the ceremony for an eloping couple. While she cannot do likewise, she can help him by “watching.” Morris decides that Mrs. Penniman is an idiot, but he must still tolerate her for the moment. Mrs. Penniman points out that if he elopes with Catherine, it will prove to Dr. Sloper that he is unconcerned about the money. Morris objects that he is interested in it and cannot see what he will gain by Mrs. Penniman’s plan. She informs Morris that Dr. Sloper is motivated by his sense of duty, so she believes that eventually he will come around and “do right” by Catherine. Morris is unsure; he would rather be able to depend on the money.

As he walks Mrs. Penniman back home to Washington Square, she continues to play the role of savior. She points out her window, should he ever need anything. All that Morris can see is that the Sloper home is a very comfortable house indeed.

In this section, the major characters (minus Dr. Sloper) reveal themselves more fully. Catherine revels in the role of the dutiful daughter. It is in this instance that she shows that she is indeed her father’s offspring. For both of them, duty is the foundational motivation for all their actions. It is of higher priority even than love—either a father’s love for his daughter, or a woman’s love for her lover. Whether or not this engagement is right or wrong, it is seen through the filter of duty by both Dr. Sloper and Catherine. Dr. Sloper believes that Catherine will not continue with the relationship because of her dutiful devotion to her father. Catherine assumes this as well and writes to Morris to inform him that, though at one point she had made up her mind, she has now “unmade” it, and must wait to see what the future holds in respect to her father.

Mrs. Penniman reveals herself to be extremely self-absorbed. Her concern in the relationship between Morris and Catherine is...

(The entire section is 974 words.)