Do you ever get yourself into situations where you know that you're making an argument that's going to come back and bit you in the you-know-where, but you do it anyway, just because you're too proud to admit that you're even a little bit wrong? Of course you have – we all do. And, because they're human, so do almost all the characters in Howards End. The whole novel is basically a long demonstration of the difference between principle and action, and the problems that can come from being inflexible about either of these things.
Throughout the novel, the notion of "proportion," though dismissed at first, emerges as the only way to balance idealism and the real world.
The novel's characters enact the need for a middle ground between high ideals and low desires through a spectrum of three characters, Helen, Margaret, and Henry; these characters function in relation to each other as representations of different attitudes.