What is the main conflict in On Beauty by Zadie Smith?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The main conflict in this updated version of Howards End is an external conflict that exists between the two families, the Belseys and the Kippses, which takes the form of differing political beliefs and approaches to the world around them. The more liberal Belseys find their match in the approach that the Kippses take to the world around them. This conflict is firstly presented to the reader in the academic feud that exists between Monty Kipps and Howard Belsey, but as the paths of the two families cross more and more, the two different perspectives on life are compared and contrasted. Note how Kiki and Monty disagree about opportunities being provided for blacks. Kiki argues that:

We got black kids dying on the front line on the other side of the world, and they're in that army 'cos they think college has got nothing to offer them.

In response, Howard believes that achievement and privilege is something that has to be earned, saying:

As long as we encourage a culture of victimhood... we will continue to raise victims. And so the cycle of underachievement continues.

The central conflict in this novel is therefore the external conflict between the Kippses and the Belseys, and the very different perspectives and views held by both families.

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