E. M. Forster Short Fiction Analysis
All of Forster’s best-known and most anthologized stories appeared first in two collections, The Celestial Omnibus and The Eternal Moment. The words “celestial” and “eternal” are especially significant because a typical E. M. Forster story features a protagonist who is allowed a vision of a better life, sometimes momentarily only. Qualifications for experiencing this epiphany include a questioning mind, an active imagination, and a dissatisfaction with conventional attitudes. The transformation resulting from the experience comes about through some kind of magic that transports him through time—backward or forward—or through space—to Mt. Olympus or to heaven. Whether or not his life is permanently changed, the transformed character can never be the same again after a glimpse of the Elysian Fields, and he is henceforth suspect to contemporary mortals.
Forster termed his short stories “fantasies,” and when the discerning reader can determine the point at which the real and the fantastic intersect, he will locate the epiphany, at the same time flexing his own underused imaginative muscles. Perhaps “The Machine Stops,” a science-fiction tale about a world managed by a computer-like Machine that warns men to “beware of first-hand ideas,” was at the time of its writing (1909) the most fantastic of Forster’s short fiction, but its portrayal of radio, television, and telephones with simultaneous vision seems to have...
(The entire section is 1849 words.)
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