Study Guide

Howards End Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

By E.M. Forster

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

"Home"

The idea of "home" is a major, major problem here. For the most part, our characters are uprooted and drifting – whether by choice or not. For some, like Henry Wilcox, houses have no sentimental value, and are just seen as investments to be turned into more money, while for others, like Leonard, urban poverty makes having a real home an impossible dream (we get the feeling that if Leonard's family had just stayed in the countryside, this might not be true – see "City versus Country" below). Home is the biggest problem for Margaret, though; she longs desperately for a house to call her own, and to feel truly connected to, and once the Schlegels are turned out of Wickham Place, she feels at a loss.

The only stable place any of the characters – or we, the readers, for that matter – can call home is Mrs. Wilcox's house, Howards End. After all, there's a reason the book is named after this remarkable place – it's the spiritual center of the England presented here, and it seems like Margaret's fate to finally inherit it in the end.

City versus Country

The dangers of city life concern the narrator of Howards End greatly, but they're not necessarily the fears of the big, bad city that we might expect – there's nothing dramatic about violent crime or inner city corruption. Rather, the novel is concerned with the less flashy, but no less alarming dangers of living in London: the damage it can do to one's character and personal relationships. The narrator and some of our characters are agitated by the continual flux of the city, in which things are constantly coming and going. London is portrayed like a kind of beast that consumes everything that crosses its path, from individual people to whole villages, and the threat of urban and suburban sprawl haunts the whole novel.

The country, on the other hand, is depicted as a space of real, proper Englishness – a place where the characters can truly connect with the land that they all come from. There's something real about the countryside (whether in Oniton or Hilton) that gets to both Margaret and the narrator – and, through them, to us, the readers. Country life seems to be somehow more substantial, natural, and, well, human than city life, and the relationships that people have both to each other and to the land itself seem more valuable there.

Nationality

There's not much to say about this concept – Forster is interested in the troubled relationship between England and Germany, and several of our characters play out these national roles clearly. First of all, we've got the determinedly English characters, namely Aunt Juley and all of the Wilcoxes. The narrator, as well as Margaret, is curious about what makes England English – and who are the real English people, anyway? Part of Englishness is the imperial drive, represented by the Wilcox men, whose desire to conquer and pillage is barely concealed. Another part is Aunt Juley's pride in Englishness, which is demonstrated in her overflowing love for the subtle (but still remarkable), rather clichéd beauties of the English countryside. On the other hand, we have Cousin Frieda, whose pride in Germany is just as strong as Mrs. Munt's pride in England – Frieda represents a wholeheartedly good, though rather reductive, example of German patriotism.

In between these extremes, however, we have the Schlegels themselves – half-English, half-German, we see the conflict between nations played out in each of them individually, and ultimately in the clash between Helen and Margaret.

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