Washington Square

Washington Square Summary and Analysis of Chapters 27-30

Chapter 27 Summary:

Dr. Sloper has a conversation with his sister, Lavinia. He makes it clear that he remains inflexible and has no intention of consenting to Catherine's marriage. Further, he knows that Morris has spent a considerable amount of time in the house, though he does not want to hear Lavinia's justification or explanation or lie regarding the fact. He tells her simply because he does not want to hear her speak on the topic. It is already settled and of no great importance. What he does wish to say is that Lavinia puts herself in danger by stoking the doomed hopes of an inflamed fortune-hunter. Dr. Sloper warns Lavinia that Morris may try to sue her or get some form of revenge for unjustly raising his expectations.

Dr. Sloper asks Lavinia if she thinks that Morris intends to hang onto Catherine, and Lavinia simply tells Dr. Sloper that he had better wait and see. When Dr. Sloper talks to his other sister, Mrs. Almond, she tells him that he should not be surprised, having left Lavinia alone, to find that she kept company with Morris. Dr. Sloper is surprised when Mrs. Almond tells him what she has learned from Catherine, that Morris has set up a business and is making a great deal of money. Dr. Sloper realizes that Catherine has already given up on changing his mind. Mrs. Almond tells him that Catherine has returned home exactly the same. She sees that Catherine is destined for heartbreak, and Dr. Sloper agrees. Unlike Dr. Sloper, Mrs. Almond suggests that if Catherine is doomed to fall, they ought to spread as many carpets as they can to cushion the fall. Sloper, on the other hand, intends to precipitate the fall and make it happen sooner rather than later.

Chapter 28 Summary:

Mrs. Penniman sends a letter to Morris telling him that Dr. Sloper has arrived as stubborn as ever. When that letter receives no reply, Mrs. Penniman sends more, inviting herself to visit Morris' business office. She suggests that she might pose as a customer and they can meet in secret. When Morris finally agrees to meet Mrs. Penniman, it is in the middle of the day, when one would think that Morris would be very busy with his work. He is rude to Mrs. Penniman, who dotes on him all the more. She suggests that Morris ought to bring a lawsuit against her brother. Morris replies that he'll bring a lawsuit against Mrs. Penniman if she continues with her idiotic comments. Morris says that he must simply give Catherine up. Mrs. Penniman has seen it coming and she is not all that surprised. Indeed, she is far from judgmental - she is supportive. She sees Morris as the talented son that she might have had and tells him that he would likely find a better prospect elsewhere. Morris asks Mrs. Penniman to brace Catherine for the disclosure. And at this point, Mrs. Penniman begins to think of Catherine and how sad she will be to lose Morris. Morris suggests that Dr. Sloper will be happy and that he will make Catherine feel better, but Mrs. Penniman says that Dr. Sloper will only invent a new torture to harm Catherine.

Morris says that his argument will be that he feels bad stepping in between Catherine and her father, depriving her of her rights. Mrs. Penniman agrees that this argument is very well framed. Morris says that he won't give Catherine up for another wife; he will give her up for a wider career. Still, there is no need to drag the engagement out for much longer as he will definitely not be marrying Catherine. Mrs. Penniman's main excitement is the drama at hand, for if she loves first meetings, she believes that last partings are nearly equal in dignity and excitement.

Chapter 29 Summary:

Mrs. Penniman feels that she has a very important role to serve though she wonders precisely what she is to do. As a result, when Morris visits the house he finds that little has been done in the way of preparing Catherine for her fall. Catherine has no suspicion of her danger and Aunt Lavinia does not know precisely what to say or do. After several of Morris' visits, Catherine is exasperated because Morris has not given a date. Morris gives an outburst, mumbles something rather incoherent, and leaves. His subsequent visits are short and his speech is distant. Catherine is concerned: Morris is not displaying the affection and kindness one would expect. Finally, Morris tells Catherine that he is going to New Orleans to buy some cotton, for he expects to sell it on the market at a higher price. When Catherine insists upon coming, Morris warns that New Orleans is dangerous on account of yellow fever. When Catherine argues that Morris is just as susceptible to yellow fever as she is, she also adds that Morris should be more interested in her and less interested in money. He says that he must leave and that he will visit next Saturday, but Catherine asks that he visit on the following day. He insists upon Saturday and Catherine suddenly realizes her predicament, saying "Morris, you are going to leave me."

Morris says that he will leave but only for a short time, but Catherine is soon crying and she says "you won't come back!" Morris promises that Catherine will see him again.

Chapter 30 Summary:

Catherine is very depressed about what has happened. She hopes that Morris will return and tell her that he does not mean to say what he has said but this does not happen. When Aunt Lavinia approaches Catherine and suggests that something is bothering the young woman, Catherine lies and says that everything is fine. Aunt Lavinia sends a letter to Morris but she receives no response. Catherine, for her part, has sent two short letter to Morris, and she has also received no response.

Dr. Sloper has been observing Catherine and he approaches Lavinia, suggesting that Morris has backed out of the marriage. Lavinia argues in opposition and shudders at the pure joy that the doctor derives in being right - even at the expensive price of his daughter's emotions.

Aunt Lavinia approaches Catherine and tries to pry information from the young woman after she has taken a walk. Aunt Lavinia speaks to Catherine and tries to console her about the engagement being broken off and Morris' change in plans. Catherine is confused, of course. Though Catherine doubts Morris, Morris has not said anything to the effect of permanently changing his plans. When Aunt Lavinia says "if he hasn't told you" - Catherine interrupts her aunt. Aunt Lavinia now realizes that Morris has not told Catherine that he will not marry her; he has simply left. Aunt Lavinia cries that she has spoken too soon. Catherine now realizes that Aunt Lavinia has been aware of this looming disaster and has done nothing to assist her. Catherine has gone to Mrs. Montgomery's house, but Morris was not there, having left town. Even worse, his family does not know where he has gone.

Catherine regrets all of her aunt's meddling. It would have been better not to leave Morris with Aunt Lavinia for a full year. It would have been better never to have known Morris. When Aunt Lavinia says that Morris has left because he did not want to hurt Catherine and destroy her relationship with her father, Catherine asks Aunt Lavinia whether Morris has told her to say this. Aunt Lavinia is utterly unable to console Catherine, who perceives precisely what has happened.

Analysis of Chapters 27-30:

Catherine has returned from Europe ready to make plans for her life as a married woman. In these chapters, Catherine's world, her plans and her prospects finally unravel.

Dr. Sloper's attitude towards Catherine's break-up suggests that he values truth over happiness. Sloper takes his pleasure in being right; it scarcely matters to him that Catherine is suffering emotionally. Again, we see that Dr. Sloper's actions are causing dissension within his family. Sloper is becoming alienated from his daughter, as well as from both of his sisters. Catherine's Aunt Almond presents the image of the "fall" when she describes Catherine's plight, adding that she will need to "spread carpets" to cushion Catherine's fall. This is the emotional response that one expects from a family member, and Dr. Sloper's sisters are shocked and dismayed by his failure to act like a father. Both Aunt Almond and Aunt Penniman wonder whether Catherine will survive? Is Catherine strong and sturdy enough to survive the collapse of her engagement?

Throughout the novel, Catherine has been portrayed as the responsible, mature, level-headed counterpart to Aunt Lavinia. For Aunt Lavinia, the end of Catherine's engagement is the end of her own romance. Lavinia has done everything in her power to keep Morris and Catherine together, but the romance that she has imagined is not sustainable in reality. Just as Catherine has seen her hopes dashed, Lavinia has seen her own imagined romance dissolve. Both Catherine and Morris regret listening to Lavinia's advice in the first place. Dr. Sloper warns Lavinia to "beware of the just resentment of a deluded fortune hunter," referring to Morris. Dr. Sloper's words foreshadow Morris' angry threat to sue Lavinia for leading him to believe that he would be able to marry Catherine and come into a fortune.

Morris feels that Lavinia has betrayed him. Catherine similarly feels that Lavinia has betrayed her. It has proven difficult for Lavinia to develop her "drama" and simultaneously fulfill her obligations to Morris and especially to Catherine. Lavinia accidentally reveals Morris' low intentions before the young man has revealed himself to Catherine. Lavinia thinks that she has spoken "too soon," and Catherine poses the question of whether Lavinia has spoken too soon or too late. Lavinia does not speak with an intention of reducing Catherine's pain. Instead, Lavinia concentrates on playing her part in the drama. She walks around the Sloper home with "an unexploded bomb" in her hands. Lavinia does have sympathy for Catherine. However, Lavinia's "aesthetic disappointment" is the fact that Catherine has not suffered more and made a greater scene of her suffering.

Both Morris and Dr. Sloper have hurt Catherine and Catherine has a lot to learn. Upon her return, it occurs to Catherine that she should not have trusted Aunt Lavinia as much as she did. But at this point, most of the damage has already been done. In her dealings with Morris, Catherine has remained too timid. It is only when Morris becomes flagrantly unenthused about the marriage that Catherine voices her displeasure with his relative lack of interest and preparation. When Morris finally walks out on Catherine, she realizes that he is going to leave her and she is neither swayed nor consoled by Morris' half-hearted insistence that she will see him again. At this point, Catherine has learned to see through Morris' language. In conversation with Lavinia, Catherine can identify when her aunt is simply repeating something that Morris has bid her to say. And at the end of Chapter 30, Catherine's phrase "I don't believe it" is not the naïve resolution that she would have said earlier in the novel. Here, Catherine has become disillusioned and exasperated at once.

Washington Square loosely resembles works within the genre of the bildungsroman, the novel that chronicles the education and self-development of a young person. Earlier in the novel, considerable discussion was devoted to Catherine's education, her intellectual capacity, and her father's disappointment. Subsequent trips to Europe failed to "open Catherine's eyes" - in the eyes of her father, or in Morris' eyes. Catherine's epiphany comes in her moment of crisis. Unfortunately, her realization is a tragic one and it is a tearful betrayal that has brought perspicacity.