Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

A character in E. M. Forster’s novel Howard’s End (1910) advocates connecting the prose (prosaic, rational nature) and the passion (emotional, spiritual nature) in human life in order to make human relationships more satisfactory. Forster was fascinated by the disconnections and disjunctions among human beings and the misunderstandings and conflicts they engender. In an attempt to confront the past of Greek civilization in this story, Mr. Lucas unconsciously seeks to come to terms with his own past life. Because he arrives at the inn earlier than the others, he has more time to be influenced by the setting. He clearly needs to be preparing for death, and he undergoes a profound spiritual experience at the shrine that enables him to see life whole. Instead of leaving images of body parts that were healed or improved at the shrine, as others before him have done, he conceives of leaving an image of a whole man.

Although the others find the lunch stop in this picturesque setting pleasant, they are not so moved, in part because they are not in similarly earnest search of spiritual experiences. Lucas seems detached from the practical demands of the moment, but his companions are concerned with the immediate present. As if to heighten the contrast between the practical and the spiritual, Forster has their guide, an unnamed Greek translator in the travel party, bargain with the innkeeper to purchase a pig. This mundane act takes place while Lucas is working out the meaning of his own transforming event.

Lucas’s companions experience conflict, but, as they are acting rationally, are convinced that their acts are for his own good. When Graham forcibly places Lucas astride his mule, he offers an apology and explanation, but he gives up when he realizes that the old man will not understand. When Ethel reads of the accident at the inn, she can only react with relief over their decision to leave, never realizing that Mr. Lucas would have found a happier fate in death at the inn.

Conflicts in the story arise owing to differences in age, timing of the narrative, and values, and Forster makes them appear natural, even inevitable. He suggests that moral choices as well as human relationships are infinitely complex and subtle.