How Does Washington Square Society Present a Polite and Cultured Veneer

Washington Square society presents a polite and cultured veneer to mask underlying hypocrisy and deception. Middle-class society during the nineteenth century stresses the importance of education, social and economic status because of the adopted belief of eugenic superiority. Literary critique Andrew J Schieber explores the relationship between society’s behaviour and this belief. The façade masks the hypocrisy, in which standards and beliefs are deceptively not conformed to, creating a great difference between the reality of public and private life.

Washington Square society possesses a polite and cultured veneer. This attractive appearance aligns with the patriarchal structure of society during the nineteenth century, where social status and class were of the upmost importance. Henry James’ authorial voice emphasizes his views on the standards and behaviours of the middle-class, their importance and how people have to fit into a particular category to be accepted. Washington Square society adopts the Darwinian theory of eugenics and, according to Schieber, they “regard this self-assumed position as proof of their own evolutionary superiority”. The desire for a polite and cultured appearance is seen through Dr. Sloper’s insistence on his daughter Catherine’s education. He demands her Aunt Lavinia to educate her, saying:
“Try to make a clever woman of her…you are good for nothing unless you are clever”
Money was another significant aspect of being a member of middle-class society. Economic status was representative of power and influence. This is demonstrated by displaying one’s most prized possessions in the home in plain view of guests. James narrates this belief:
“To play a social part, you must either earn your income or make believe that you earn it”.
This polite and cultured veneer disguises the true nature of hypocrisy and deception to avert criticism and judgment by others in society.

Much of Washington Square society stands by moral...