Study Guide

Margaret Schlegel in Howards End

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Margaret Schlegel

We can't help but picture Emma Thompson's earnest, endearing face when we think of Margaret Schlegel – the actress portrayed this character in the 1992 film version of Forster's novel, and, in our opinion, it was a job well done. Margaret, like the divine Emma, is characterized by her sympathetic qualities, her emotional honesty, and her clear-sightedness; however, before you start thinking that she's a too-good-to-be-true goody two-shoes, we should also add the fact that she's profoundly confused and torn between the various loves of her life, just like the rest of us. Margaret is a woman led by both her heart and her mind, and she strives to find perfect unity and balance in all of her relationships. However, this is easier said than done; in the end, it takes a whole lot of suffering for anyone we meet here to reach any level of resolution.

Margaret's struggles stem from her profound capacity for sympathy – she is uniquely able to see the good in everyone, and thus to extend her affection almost limitlessly. For this reason, she's able to love both her passionate sister, Helen, and her repressed, emotionally thwarted husband, Henry, despite the fact that they're basically polar opposites. Margaret's creed, "Only connect," is the guiding message of the whole novel; Forster encourages us, like Margaret herself, to try and bring everything together in open relation, whether it be people or ideas.

As the book goes on, Margaret develops more and more into a kind of super-sympathetic, almost magical character; while she begins as a somewhat awkward intellectual, prone to putting her foot in her mouth, she grows into a more mature, understanding, and forgiving woman. The whole novel is basically the story of her gradual development, and all of the other main characters are ultimately drawn to her.

Margaret transforms into a kind of new incarnation of the mystical Mrs. Wilcox, who's able to bring her loved ones together and create a new, positive, productive kind of life for her family. Both of these women are, of course, tied intimately to Howards End itself, which figures as a crossroads between the past and the future. Margaret herself becomes a kind of bridge into the future; in the end, she has kept the family together (and, implicitly, England itself) and made it possible for her nephew, the next generation, to inherit a better world.

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