Washington Square Chapters 7 and 8 Summary and Analysis
by Henry James

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Chapters 7 and 8 Summary and Analysis

Dr. Sloper regards with increasing concern the progressing courtship of Morris and Catherine. He is concerned about the appearance of the sudden arrival of a lover where none has darkened the door for that purpose before. Dr. Sloper is not bothered that Morris is poor, but that he is poor through his own weakness of character. When at last Morris comes to visit while Catherine’s father is present, Sloper is impressed with Morris's physical appearance but quite the opposite with his personality. He finds the suitor overconfident without justification.

Morris can readily tell that Sloper does not like him. In a first line of confrontation, he discovers that her father’s approval is essential to Catherine, much to Morris’s disappointment. Mrs. Penniman, however, feels it does not matter and encourages Morris to continue his courtship. Dr. Sloper wants Catherine to get over her feelings for Morris, whom he has judged to be not a gentleman.

Catherine continues to grow in the intensity of her feelings for Morris Townsend; however, love for her is an opportunity to sacrifice. She has no concept that love demands certain things as rights. She instead sees any attention that Morris shows her as a favor. Dr. Sloper becomes increasingly suspicious of Morris and demands that Mrs. Penniman inform him when Morris comes to the house. Mrs. Penniman, in reply to what has been happening in the house, tells her brother that the cat has had kittens. Dr. Sloper states that the kittens should be drowned, an act that Mrs. Penniman refuses to do. Comparing Mrs. Penniman to a cat, Dr. Sloper calls it (and her) stealthy. As for himself, Dr. Sloper observes that he is neat and frank, appearing to be just what he is. He cannot see what Morris sees in Catherine, whom he calls a weak-minded woman. He questions his sister as to her knowledge of Morris's background. She knows that he has been “wild” but has since repented. He is also friendless, due to the falsity of companions who have betrayed him. To this Dr. Sloper informs her that Morris evidently still has a good friend in his sister who is supporting him while he refuses to find a job. Mrs. Penniman states that Morris is looking for a job every day. Dr. Sloper agrees: Morris is looking for a job at their home by marrying a weak-minded woman. In retort, Mrs. Penniman warns him that he is pathetically mistaken if he thinks Catherine is a weak-minded woman.

The battle lines are being drawn, with Dr. Sloper alone facing his sister, his daughter, and her suitor. Yet through the force of his personality, his reliance on “facts” and reality, and his confidence in his own rectitude, he is more than a match for his opponents. Although victory on the surface seems assured, there begin to be signs that it will not be a total victory. He may win that battle, but he just might possibly lose the war.

The effects of a lifetime of subtle contempt by her father begins to be revealed in Catherine’s character. To her, love means sacrifice. In her love for her father, she has given up her own happiness, her own self-confidence, her own humanity. This she believes is the purpose of love. Thus, when she contemplates losing Morris, she accepts it readily, believing that memories are enough to sustain her through the remainder of her life. She has low expectations, as low as her own father has of his daughter.

Mrs. Penniman believes in Catherine, not based on her own knowledge of Catherine, but in this new game in which Catherine is but a player. The Catherine she supports in her courtship with Morris is not the Catherine...

(The entire section is 949 words.)