Summary – Chapters Twenty Eight, Twenty Nine and Thirty
Morris receives the letter and it is a sign of his ease with Mrs Penniman that he does not answer it straight away. He reads it and then lights his cigar with it. As he expects, she writes again and asks if she might come to his office. He does not encourage this, but after she persists he agrees to take a walk with her, ‘and was even kind enough to leave his office for this purpose during the hours at which business might have been supposed to be liveliest.’
Morris tells her that Catherine and she have made it clear that the Doctor will never give them a penny. He also says he must give ‘“her”’ up. She receives this news in silence and is not unprepared for it as she has also thought the same thing as she has grown to feel tenderness for him. She thinks it would be a pity for him to marry without the money and thinks of him as a young man ‘who might so easily find something “better”’: ‘If Morris had been her son, she would certainly have sacrificed Catherine to a superior conception of his future; …’
Mrs Penniman lets him know she agrees with him and says she will be his friend for life and he asks her to be so now and tell Catherine that he cannot bear to step between her and her father.
She asks what he will do if he does not marry her and he says ‘“something brilliant”’. She asks if he means another marriage and he answers ‘“never in this world”. She then asks ‘with some sharpness’ if he means to never come and see Catherine again. He says he will, but asks in turn what the use is of dragging it out. She urges that he must have his last parting.
Chapter Twenty Nine outlines how Morris returns again and again and again to Washington Square and finds Mrs Penniman has done nothing to help him as yet. Mrs Penniman has taken fright at the size of her responsibilities and Catherine has no idea about what they have discussed. She is waiting for him to name the day and waits modestly and patiently.
She does notice something about Morris, however, and asks him if he is sick as he looks pale. It occurs to him he might ‘get off’ if he can make her pity him.
On other times he thinks it might help if he can make her quarrel with him, but it is difficult because of her ‘treasures of concession’. He tells her he is going away on business, to New Orleans to buy cotton, and this backfires as she says she is willing to come too. He says he will not expose her to yellow fever and she asks why he is going if there is this danger and he says he is to make $6,000. She insists so much on either going with him or him going another time that he says he will conduct the business by letter. He then returns to the idea of provoking an argument with her and says she is not discreet and she must not bully him. Again, she concedes everything.
She goes on to insist that he will come and see her tomorrow and he hesitates and demurs. She recognizes his discomfort and asks what has happened and what has changed him. He says that he will write to her and that she will see him again.
Chapter Thirty begins with the news that after Morris leaves Catherine has ‘almost the last outbreak of passion of her life’ and flings herself on the sofa. It seems as though a mask has suddenly fallen from Morris’s face.
At dinner, she tries to hide her feelings so her father will not know that anything has happened. As he talks, she thinks about Morris and remembers she has had doubts and strange suspicions before. She thinks he has been different since she returned from Europe.
Mrs Penniman senses something has altered with Catherine and at bedtime Catherine asks to be left alone. Later, Mrs Penniman tells people that she was ‘hustled’ out of the room. The next night she tries to talk to Catherine again and this time she thinks Catherine is ‘haughty’. She keeps her aunt at bay, and her aunt’s curiosity is heightened.
Mrs Penniman writes to Morris (to find out what has happened), but he does not answer her letter or the two notes that Catherine sends. After a couple of days the Doctor says to Mrs Penniman that he thinks ‘“the scoundrel has backed out”’ and she says ‘“never”’.
Catherine leaves the house when she thinks her aunt is at church, but her aunt comes home early and waits for the return of her niece to see where she has been. Catherine does not tell her when she comes back and her aunt refers to her as being ‘“separate”’. At this, Catherine flames up and asks what she knows about ‘“our separating”’. Her aunt hints that her engagement is at an end and Catherine denies it. However, she finally breaks down and asks her aunt where Morris has gone and so reveals she has been to see him.
Her aunt is reluctant to show her ignorance as to his whereabouts and says with a separation, the farther away he goes ‘“the better”’. Catherine understands from this that her aunt has been meddling with her happiness and asks if she has changed him and made him so ‘“unnatural”’. She goes further and accuses her aunt of spoiling everything she touches and says she was afraid of her all the time she was abroad.
Mrs Penniman is scared and bewildered and calls her ungrateful. Catherine calms down ‘with a great effort’ and says she is not ungrateful but is ‘“very unhappy”’.
She asks where he is and Mrs Penniman says she has no idea. She then asks if it was a plan to break it off with her and Mrs Penniman says he ‘“shrunk”’ and did not have the courage. Catherine gazes at her and asks if he means to stay away forever. Mrs Penniman says this is a long time and her father ‘“perhaps”’ will not live forever. She adds that he has only put it off (the marriage) and Catherine says he has left her alone. When Mrs Penniman asks rhetorically, ‘“haven’t you me?”’, Catherine says ‘“I don’t believe it!”’ and leaves the room.
Analysis – Chapters Twenty Eight, Twenty Nine and Thirty
As Morris attempts and fails to extricate himself from his engagement, the narrative uses black humor to portray how innocent Catherine is of his lack of desire, and how cowardly he is in being unable to end the relationship he has engineered. Mrs Penniman is also seen to be as shrinking as she says Morris was and avoids taking any responsibility in the drama that she has helped to create.