Washington Square Essasy

   There is no doubt that most of the characters in Henry James’s Washington Square are more concerned with social mores than they are with genuine regard for each other. An examination of James’s social context highlights the overwhelming value placed on social and cultural mores. This is most evident through the characters, Doctor Sloper and Morris Townsend. While Doctor Sloper’s daughter- Catherine, is the most emotionally honest of all the characters, she too is strictly bound by her filial duty to her father. Thus, it is clear that this novel conveys the idea that these mores are more important than any genuine concerns characters might feel for each other.

Washington Square is set in a patriarchal society in New York in the 1840s where women’s position were fixed. Henry James’ context greatly influences the readers’ understanding of the value of social and cultural mores in this text. James’ society was very concerned with image and both perspective and perception of others, for example, it was important to always mix with the right types of people from the right class and family. It is these concerns which underpin some of the text’s important themes and illustrate the great importance placed on social and cultural mores by James’ society and the characters he portrays.

  In the novel, Doctor Sloper is one character who proves that concerns about social and cultural mores are more important than genuine regard for others. Doctor Sloper is introduced as a “very witty” “clever man”, “an observer, even a philosopher” and a “local celebrity” who was “throughly honest”. His motto was “you are good for nothing, unless you are clever” as he believed it was important to “learn something and to do something useful”. Although Doctor Sloper is mentioned to the audience as “our friend”, throughout the novel we sympathize and empathize with his only surviving child who was often referred to by the narrator as “poor Catherine”. Dr Sloper’s attitude and behavior...