Washington Square Chapters 3 and 4 Summary and Analysis
by Henry James

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Chapters 3 and 4 Summary and Analysis

Catherine grows up to be “healthy” yet plain. She develops an interest in “lively” dress, about which Dr. Sloper has much misgivings. He thinks it is bad enough that she is plain and dull, but now she is also overdressed. Catherine buys a dress that she has long wanted, a red silk gown with gold fringe. Although she is only twenty years old, the dress makes her look a more matronly thirty. It is this dress that she wears to the party given by her aunt, Mrs. Almond, in celebration of her daughter’s engagement to Arthur Townsend.

Dr. Sloper had been living downtown, but with the increase in his income and social level, he moves up to the more fashionable district on Washington Square. Mrs. Almond lives even further up town with her nine children. Catherine grows up extremely close to her cousins, especially the male ones. She enjoys boys’ games, but eventually the boys grow up and move away or go into business. One of her girl cousins is married, and the younger one, Marian, is engaged to a young stockbroker.

At the party, Catherine stands out because of her dress, but she remains on the sidelines. Her cousin Marian brings over Arthur’s cousin, Morris, who has asked to be introduced to her. Catherine is dumbfounded by his attractiveness, and she cannot remember his name, a habit she has when introduced to new people. Morris, however, is more than able to carry the conversation. He admires all aspects of the party and its inhabitants, while Catherine can murmur only short responses. She cannot keep her eyes off him, however. He is tall and slim but also appears to be strong. He has only recently returned to New York after spending several years travelling abroad. He is endeavoring to get back into the society of his birthplace.

Eventually Marian comes to take Morris to be introduced to her mother. Marian then asks Catherine what she thinks of Morris and she replies, “Nothing particular,” which is a deliberate lie. Later Catherine notices Morris talking to her aunt, Mrs. Penniman. The latter seems to be genuinely impressed with the young man, a fact which gratifies Catherine. When Dr. Sloper arrives, he expresses surprise that his daughter appears in the form of “this magnificent person.” He comments, however, that she looks as if she had “eighty thousand a year,” meaning that she appears more wealthy than she actually is. Dr. Sloper asks Catherine if she has enjoyed the party, and she merely replies that she is tired—another lie from someone who is usually honest. Dr. Sloper asks Mrs. Penniman about the young man, and Mrs. Penniman says that Morris was asking about Catherine. He especially admired her dress, she reports, which deflates Catherine somewhat. Dr. Sloper then pretends that Morris must be in love with Catherine, which he patently does not believe possible. Dr. Sloper comments that if Morris is interested in her dress, he must think she is wealthy. When Mrs. Penniman asks Catherine what his name is, Catherine again lies and says, “I don’t know.”

Several revelations are given concerning Catherine’s character. Her love of extravagant dress reveals much of her insecurity. She knows that she is plain and will never attract attention because of her looks, so she tries instead to be conspicuous in her manner of dress. The loud colors and garish embellishments are not appropriate for her age, but she is drawn to them merely for their obviousness. Dr. Sloper accuses her of trying to look wealthier than she is, when in reality he believes she looks simply cheap. He does not have a good opinion of elaborate fashion and, coupled with his low opinion of his daughter, is blinded to Catherine’s poor attempts to make herself less invisible than she feels she actually is.

The contrast between Catherine and Morris is revealed in several instances. While she is plain and “solid,” more of a masculine build, Morris is tall and slim as well as incredibly attractive. The juxtaposition of...

(The entire section is 1,070 words.)