How is the theme of connection portrayed in Howards End?

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The theme of "connection" could easily be used to understand the kinds of hypocritical behaviors exhibited by characters in the novel. Hypocrisy is sometimes a result of having a lack of empathy for others; usually it means judging someone else's behavior in a negative way while remaining unaware of one's...

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The theme of "connection" could easily be used to understand the kinds of hypocritical behaviors exhibited by characters in the novel. Hypocrisy is sometimes a result of having a lack of empathy for others; usually it means judging someone else's behavior in a negative way while remaining unaware of one's own (similar) behavior. The revelation of such hypocrisy can, in some cases, be a way of showing that, far from being morally superior to another, we are all connected by human experiences that unite us in society. This dilemma is at the heart of the social system portrayed in Forster's novels where the leisure classes and working classes are at odds. By portraying the ways that people of divergent social classes are connected in dramatic and sometimes intimate ways, Forster creates rather biting commentary on the difficulties of these social norms.

To use a specific example, Helen's attraction to Leonard Bast occurs when she runs into him repeatedly, after her sister Margaret's husband promises to give him a job but then fires him soon after. Margaret feels somewhat responsible for Leonard's resulting poverty; he left his previous job to take the one her brother-in-law promised, and now has nowhere to work.

She runs into Leonard with his common-law wife when they are starving in the street, and instead of seeing herself as being superior to them socially (which her class standing would normally dictate), she takes pity on them and feels anger on their behalf. Her ability to feel empathy for their situation is partly why she and Leonard feel a mutual attraction that cuts across the divide of their social class, and creates a connection based on mutual interests and simple respect.

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Connection is of course the central theme of this great text, and this takes many forms. The novel focuses on connection between our private and public lives as well as connections between individuals. It looks at how difficult it can be to forge and sustain such connections.

The prime way in which this is discussed is through the two families that seem to exhibit completely different characteristics and tendencies. On the one hand we have the Wilcoxes, who are solidly down-to-earth and represent the practical English spirit with its focus on business and politics. On the other hand, we have the Schlegel family with their bohemian roots who symbolise the power of the imagination, idealism and an intellectual spirit. For this family, the individual is more important than society and the organisation and personal relationships are more important than public relationships. The opposite is of course true for the Wilcoxes.

A connection is forged betwen these two very different families through the marriage of Margaret to Henry Wilcox. However, whereas Helen's encounter with the Wilcoxes is a disaster, Margaret seems to begin to move towards an understanding of their position as she realises that the things that are important to her would not exist without people such as the Wilcoxes who guarantee stability. She says at one stage, "More and more do I refuse to draw my income and sneer at those who guarantee it."

What threatens this union, however, is when Henry is almost unable to make a connection between Helen's transgression with Leonard Bast and his own transgression with Jacky Bast. This of course comes to a head when Helen wants to stay at Howards End before returning to Germany and Henry forbids her. For Margaret, the individual is more important than public standards and notions of shame, and Henry is forced to drastically reconsider his values. Connections connect the different characters and run through the entire novel.

 

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