Washington Square: Themes
Father and daughter relationship
The connection between Dr Sloper and Catherine is a central thematic concern as it is the disintegration of their relationship that is a consequence of her love for Morris.
It should be noted that prior to the appearance of Morris the Doctor is quoted as being critical of his daughter. The gap between them is seen to have originated at birth when she unwittingly fails to live up to the expectations raised by the now dead son and wife. In her perceived ordinariness, Catherine never impresses her father.
The questions of whether one should marry for love or money, or both, are raised in this work. The answer remains ambiguous as the mercenary (as represented by Morris) and the romantic fool (as represented by Mrs Penniman) are unlikely candidates for persuading the readers that marriage is advisable. Given that Morris and Mrs Penniman have been influential in Catherine’s early adulthood, it is understandable that she goes on to remain single for the foreseeable future.
By the end of the novel, Catherine is designated as the single and seemingly happy middle-aged woman and it is left open as to whether she should be thought of as only independent and free, or as deserving of sympathy in that she is facing a life time of fancy-work with no respite. Because of the ambiguity, it is permissible to read Catherine’s single status as one that is to be finally preferred.