Washington Square: The American Cinderella
March 16, 2014 at 8:10 pm #286AJ SmithParticipant
Watching “Washington Square,” I couldn’t help but think about it in terms of the fairytales we’ve been reading for class, particularly Cinderella and Red Riding Hood. I thought a good slogan for the film could be: Cinderella Meets a Wolf on Her Way to the Ball. The movie starts like the typical Cinderella tale. In the Introduction to the Cinderella section of The Classic Fairy Tales, it says that three types of stories fall into this category. “Washington Square” clearly belongs to the first of these – that of the “ill-treated heroine” (103). Catherine, besides being a constant reminder of her deceased mother, is treated very poorly by her father, Dr. Sloper, because she does not fit with the ideals of her social status. From her rushing to meet her father at the door upon his return home, we see that she is a girl with a Romantic spirit that can hardly be contained. Also in accordance with the typical Cinderella fairy tale, Catherine has a fairy-godmother/mentor figure in her life, her Aunt Lavinia. Lavinia is flawed, though, which complicates the story nicely. Morris Townsend serves as the prince whom she is to ultimately marry and, referring back to my made-up slogan, also serves as the Wolf from the Red Riding Hood stories.
As viewers, we are clued in to Townsend’s true nature as a “wolf” figure in many subtle ways. After Catherine and Townsend meet at the engagement party, he ambushes her on the street. He jumps out from behind a tree, startling her. To me, the scene was reminiscent of the Wolf coming upon Little Red Riding Hood in the woods. Another moment like this was during Catherine’s cousin’s wedding party. While looking for Townsend, she sees him through a crowd of people and obscured by some plants. The way it was shot made Townsend appear to be the Wolf lurking in the woods. A different, but equally revealing intimation of Townsend’s true nature is in the cinematographic choices of how conversations between him and other characters are shot. A prime example would be the scene where, after having dinner, Dr. Sloper and Townsend go into the next room to have cigars and wine. The scene is shot from over Townsend’s shoulder and we only see his reflection in a mirror. A person’s reflection in a mirror is not a true representation of what he “really” looks like. So, this scene suggests that we are not getting a “real” reflection of Townsend’s nature – something that only Dr. Sloper seems to pick up on.
Because of the complications of Lavinia and Townsend’s characters, the nature of this story changes. In the Cinderella tales we’ve read in class, although the protagonist learns to escape, she still relies on (in Campbell’s terms) supernatural aid and ultimately upon a prince for happiness. Aunt Lavinia, while giving Catherine advice, only ends up hurting her in the end. Townsend turns out not to be a prince, but a wolf seeking to devour her fortune as the wolf in the Red Riding Hood stories devours the grandmother. As a result, Catherine gains a power that is not awarded to Cinderella. She learns to rely upon and look to herself for her happiness, an ending which is more empowering to women than those of most of the Cinderella tales. In “Washington Square,” Catherine learns to escape AND she does so by herself, making her victory in the end that much more rewarding.March 24, 2014 at 5:03 pm #290Quinn WrightParticipant
Though I generally agree with your connections, I must comment that the implications of Townsend as a wolf figure and Catherine’s father as being overbearing are far more subtle than what you suggest, and that is a good thing. Catherine’s father, though certainly overbearing, never meant any harm for Catherine, but rather wanted to leave his entire fortune to her as opposed to having to share it with a lesser male figure. This is not to say that he did not have his own intentions at heart, never seriously considering Catherine’s feelings for Townsend, but this is a moot point as he was right about him all along. In terms of Townsend, I believe that he did have deep set feelings for Catherine, despite his financial ineptitude. Ultimately, I believe that the money issue only became prevalent the more he was denied her hand in marriage. However, this does not change his wolf like quality, I just feel as though this was a dynamic development as opposed to one that was set from the beginning. Much like the comment I made on the other post, it is Catherine’s ultimate refusal of both male figures after her travels and tribulations that establish her as a text book heroic figure.March 24, 2014 at 10:12 pm #291Megan MeadowsParticipant
I agree with you Quinn. While her father is overbearing, Catherine is such an important person in his life, the one he cares about most and to see her with someone such as ‘the wolf’, it must be hard. Although I believe he does mistreat her and could have acted differently, he seems like a smart man that can judge character.
The director of the film did a great job, although I’ve never read the book I have read other Henry James novels and I felt the film was representative of James and how he writes. Based on my previous readings, I felt he fit James’ writing style well, from the camera angles (some actually made me dizzy) to the music.
One last thing that I would like to point out is the idea of Catherine as a hero. While she does stand up for what is right and overcomes her blindness due to love (she is sort of forced to), I was confused by her character. She reminded me a bit of Kristen Stewart in her movements and mannerisms, that she made me kind of made me uncomfortable. I wonder if she was acting this way because of her painful background or because that is how she is as an actress. I have seen her in a few other things, although mostly recent.March 25, 2014 at 8:40 am #294Jo-Ann WongParticipant
I found your interpretation of the movie, in terms of Little Red Riding Hood, interesting as I originally connected the story more to the Catskin stories. For instance, like the Catskin stories, the mistreatment of Catherine is due to the impact her mother had on her father. Another similarity was in the way the desires of the daughters are ignored in favor of the fathers’ inability to communicate with them. While Catherine does not physically escape from her father like in the Catskin stories, she escaped from him in an emotional sense. Later on, this departure from her father is completed by her disinheritance, which separates her from her past life where money, rather than her desires, was the ruling factor.
I have to compliment the production designer for this movie. I loved how the color scheme slowly changed from bright when Catherine was childishly in love to dark when she becomes disillusioned. However, at the end, when she meets Townsend again, while the colors are muted, they are still present, thereby indicating her ability to be content with her decisions and be independent.March 25, 2014 at 1:53 pm #297Hannah KingsleyParticipant
To adress Megan’s points, I don’t agree that the Catherine’s father is acting out of good judgment and concern for her. Although I think we can all agree that he was a manipulative, self-interested man, I think the characterization of him as a misguided father is too generous. He frequently insulted his daughter, and despite a plethora of evidence to the contrary, he continued to forbid the marriage and react to Catherine’s choices with contempt. I don’t think he was worried about a man taking advantage of Catherine based on reasonable suspicion–I think he couldn’t understand why a man would be interested in her, and personally disliked Townsend.
I was also initially confused by Catherine’s character. Her awkwardness and lack of initial dynamic characterization that went beyond a shy, subservient girl actually led me to believe that she was not going to be the hero of the narrative, despite the fact that the story was told from her perspective. I was actually expecting her father to ultimately undergo personal growth and take on that role. (This perception may have made me overly harsh in terms of my ultimate perception of his character, because I was constantly looking for personal growth). I think her uncomfortable mannerisms were a part of her character, and not just a quality particular to the actress, as they really complimented her background and personality. Her transition into a jaded, but still competent, person was very well developed, as it was something that really seemed almost impossible at the beginning, and I believe that the continuation of the awkward acting and mannerisms was a fantastic choice, as it made it clear that she still had the same troubled past and personal problems, but had nevertheless developed into a more self-aware and assertive person. Her personal journey was very well articulated, both in narrative and acting choices.March 25, 2014 at 2:42 pm #298Melissa TempletonParticipant
I agree with Hannah. I think it’s hard to oversee the fact that the father was right all along and through his correct judgement he was looking out for the intentions of his daughter, however it is evident from the first scene of the movie on that he dislikes Catherine. Catherine was the cause of the death of his wife and his last chance at a male heir (a priority during the time period this movie is set in). Therefore, the resentment that Catherine’s father shows throughout the movie in the way he speaks to her and acts toward her cannot be denied when saying he was looking out for her best intentions. Had the father been wrong, I think responses might have differed.
As far as others commenting on the character of Catherine, I agree that the actor herself certainly has really award mannerisms which translated into me feeling really awkward as I watched the movie. However, I think these award mannerisms really added to Catherine as a heroine because she was such a subservient character to begin with and her unfortunate events hardened her and opened her eyes to the harsh reality of the world, unlike the reality that Townsend supposedly wanted to live in when asking for Catherine’s hand in marriage to her father.
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