Study Guide

Where Angels Fear to Tread Dust and Mud

By E. M. Forster

Dust and Mud

Dust is a nuisance—it's filthy; it causes allergies; it constantly needs to be swept, wiped, removed. No one likes dust. The unpleasant and negative connotations of dust are used in symbolic ways at key moments in Where Angels Fear to Tread. When Lilia disobeys Gino and takes a walk unaccompanied, she faints from exhaustion and

"[...] when she revived she was lying in the road, with dust in her eyes, and dust in her mouth, and dust down her ears. There is something very terrible in dust at night-time." (4.38)

The image of Lilia completely covered in dust is symbolic of how trapped and stifled she feels in her marriage. In fact, poor Lilia has been forced to conform her entire life—in Sawston, she was pressured by societal expectations and Mrs. Herriton's constant demands; in Italy, Lilia initially feels liberated when she falls in love with Gino, only to discover that he married her for her money. Gino gives his wife even less personal freedom than Mrs. Herriton—Lilia's sense of suffocation is epitomized in this image of dust literally smothering her eyes, mouth, and ears.

This scene of Lilia fainting and waking up by the roadside also foreshadows the terrible accident that causes her baby's death. To jog your memory on the events leading up to this fatal night, Harriet and Philip are heading to the train station with the kidnapped baby, and because the "roads were now coated with mud" (7.154) from the recent rainfall, the carriage overturns.

Philip and his sister are thrown from the carriage and find themselves "lying in the mud in darkness" (7.165), an image which echoes Lilia "lying in the road" at night. The narrator then tells us that Philip "began to crawl through the mud, touching first this, then that" until he noticed a bundle that "had rolled off the road into the wood" (7.83).

Philip picks up the baby and "tried to cleanse the face from the mud and the rain and the tears" (7.185). In this scene, the mud and rain symbolize the devastating consequences of what happens when you muddle ... ahem, meddle ... in situations that are none of your business. The fact that Philip has to crawl around in mud reflects the mess that he and Harriet have made in trying to take the baby away from Gino.

The image of the baby's face covered in mud and rain further echoes Lilia's experience of being covered in dust. Sadly in this instance, the baby doesn't survive the outside pressures attempting to dictate his life, and the townspeople later refer to him as "the Italian baby who died in the mud." Similar to the metaphor of dust, mud is also used symbolically to represent how oppressive forces destroy individual free will.

And now please excuse us as we attack every surface in our house with Pledge and paper towels in an attempt to remove every single speck of dust. We like our free will, thankyouverymuch.

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