How is the theme of connection portrayed in Howards End?

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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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Howards End

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