Washington Square Henry James

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In ‘Washington Square', Henry James used a refined technique of narration, language, symbolism and irony as he explored the psychological dimensions of his characters' actions, motivations and interpersonal relationships. He did so as he confronted the tragedy of the immorality of human beings, personified in the characters of Dr. Sloper and Morris Townsend, in dominating the spirit of Sloper's daughter, Catherine, for their own ends.

In other works of fiction where the oppressive circumstances of protagonists usually arise from failures of society and within the specific individual there is often an optimism to the extent that it is suggested that progress might eventually lift the individual or mankind beyond the scope of the type of situations depicted. In ‘Washington Square', however, James' depiction of Catherine's tragedy could well be interpreted, at a universal level, as our susceptibility to the manipulative and domineering elements in human nature combined with those factors which drive us with passionate longing for another. Our hopes for an enlightened perspective of Catherine's situation diminish as she confronts an environment of emotional, psychological and motivational disregard and cruelty displayed in numerous situations of dialogue, interviews and conniving. We recognize, however, that Catherine's sufferings are intrinsic to human nature as she is depicted also as a protagonist who displays substance and a willingness to develop her perceptions of human behaviour at the cost of being isolated physically, psychologically and emotionally.

Catherine's dilemma begins in an overtly conventional yet dismal setting. This is the ordered and understated fashionable New York setting where she is victim to her father's calculated disregard and domineering behaviour and of the perceptions others have of her given their economic and social positions. She is, in...
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