Catherine Sloper's Self-realization in Henry James' Washington Square Essay

Catherine Sloper's Self-realization in Henry James' Washington Square Essay

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Catherine Sloper's Self-realization in Henry James' Washington Square


In his essay, "Washington Square: A Study in the Growth of an Inner Self," James W. Gargano argues convincingly that the Henry James's novel, Washington Square, revolves around the emotional, psychological, and spiritual development of Catherine Sloper. With one small exception, Gargano makes his case so persuasively that it seems hard to believe that there could be any other view of Catherine and her role in the book. Yet, Gargano asserts that James scholars before him have persistently focused elsewhere leaving Catherine to be categorized much the same way her father characterizes her as dull and listless (Gargano 355, 357).

Gargano rightly shifts the critical debate from fascination with the ethical conundrum of Dr. Sloper's behavior to concentration on the process of self-realization which takes place slowly and silently in Catherine's mind (Gargano 355). Finding proof of his thesis in the exacting way James investigates Catherine's growth, Gargano sees that James has purposely shown Catherine as innocent in the beginning of the story to demonstrate a contrast to who she becomes as she begins to wake up to herself as the story progresses, and contends that upon meeting Townsend, Catherine "emerg[es] from a sort of dormancy" (Gorgano 356). Gorgano astutely points out that meeting Townsend is not a horrible mishap in the life of Catherine Sloper, but an event which catalyzes the girl to mature in her thinking and feeling.

Gargano pays special attention not only to Catherine's behavioral changes, but to the way James notes those changes as part of an inner process (Gargano 356). From her deceptive replies to her father's straight forward questions t...


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...orsel of fancywork, [and] seat[ing] herself with it again-for life, as it were" imply an empty period of waiting for death (Gargano 362, James 219). This interpretation of the end of Washington Square is inconsistent with Gargano's earlier contentions, and should be re-examined. Another possible and significantly more powerful interpretation of the ending of the book-that James is showing Catherine as fully self-contained and ultimately satisfied with the choices that she has made-makes more sense. Despite his final reticence, the quality of his thinking and the quantity of his evidence suggest that James Gargano has a good understanding of Henry James's main artistic occupation in writing Washington Square.

Works Cited

Gargano, James W. "Washington Square: A Study in the growth of an Inner Self."

James, Henry. Washington Square. New York: Signet, 1979.

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