Critically examine Forster's symbolism in Howards End.
Much of Howard's End involves the clash of modern England, symbolized by the Wilcoxes, with traditional England, symbolized by Mrs. Wilcox, Margaret Schlegel, and the spinster Miss Avery.
Twentieth century England is, like Henry Wilcox, hard-headed, ruthless, practical, and bent on making a profit. The older, traditional England, represented by Mrs. Wilcox and her beloved home, Howard's End, is rural, rooted in the past, beautiful, gracious, and slow-paced. The Wilcoxes would just as soon as sell and/or tear down Howard's End for profit. It is not a status symbol to them, nor, to them, a comfortable home, and they have no nostalgia for the past it represents. Mrs. Wilcox picks Margaret to inherit the house, because she intuitively grasps that the younger woman will understand the soul of the house the way she does and work to preserve its older way of life
Miss Avery, from one of the old farming families nearby, is dismissed by Henry Wilcox as nothing but an old maid who wants attention. In fact, however, by unpacking the Schlegel's things, stored at Howard's End, she helps insure the Schlegels will live in the house. She too symbolizes the spirit and continuity of the old England. Her being a spinster (an unmarried woman) shows, however, that the old spirit is dying out.
The most important symbol in this excellent novel is of course Howards End itself, the home belonging to Mrs. Wilcox that becomes such an important symbol for England and its past, present and future. This is of course explored primarily through the character of Mrs. Wilcox and her attitudes to the house. Note how she is described in a way that sharply differs from those around her such as her husband and children:
[Mrs. Wilcox} seemed to belong not to the young people and their motor, but to the house, and to the tree that overshadowed it. One knew that she worshipped the past, and that the instinctive wisdom the past can alone bestow had descended upon her--that wisdom to which we give the clumsy name of aristocracy. High born she might not be. But assuredly she cared about her ancestors, and let them help her. When she saw Charles angry, Paul frightened, and Mrs. Munt in tears, she heard her ancestors say, "Separate those human beings who will hurt each other most. The rest can wait." So she did not ask questions.
Such descriptions, which firmly link Mrs. Wilcox to Howards End, gives her a spiritual wholeness that all other characters lack, and this wholeness is something that clearly derives from her strong link to Howards End and the land that she is able to call home. It is this home that she bequeathes to Margaret, who is so desperate to find a house to call home.
Howards End is also symbolically used to paint one possible picture of the future of England where class has lost its important power to dictate and shape so much of life. Note that at the end, Mr. Wilcox and his wife, Margaret, are living at Howards End with Helen and her illegitimate son, who will inherit Howards End. Such an ending points towards Forster's hopes of a new England where class will not have such a cruel influence on the life chances of so many. Symbolically, therefore, Howards End is the most important aspect of this novel.